Immigrants fall through the cracks of a broken system

A new law in Arizona has made life harder for illegal immigrants. The law further exposes the problems with the US immigration system.

A fence separates the United States from Mexico, but the barrier is much more than a physical divide. It is a fence that has caused many to risk everything – their freedom and their lives – just to cross over it. But getting across the border is only the beginning of the problems for some immigrants in the United States.

Alma Chacon is a single mother with five children who makes ends meet by babysitting and cleaning houses. She says she came to the US legally, but lost her papers. Eventually she was pulled over and arrested for having unpaid parking tickets. Chacon, who was pregnant at the time of her arrest, ended up giving birth to her youngest daughter while shackled to a hospital bed.

Arizona has long been known for tough immigration laws. Local police have tried to crack down on illegal immigrants in their communities and many Mexicans like Chacon say they feel targeted by law enforcement and their situation has just gotten worse. In an unprecedented move, lawmakers in Arizona have passed a bill that would require all immigrants to carry papers proving that they are legally in the United States, and it gives police the right to check those papers.  

Hundreds of protestors gather at the state capital in Phoenix day after day to protest the new bill. Many worry it will give police the right to engage in racial profiling.

“All the hard-won civil liberties that we have been fighting for for generations are now going to disappear,” said Orlando Arelas, an opponent of the immigration reform.

Magdalena Schwartz is an immigration activist and pastor. Every day she meets with members of her community who have been affected by the immigration crackdown.

“We have a lot of people in our churches, they’re good people, they’re great people, they did not commit any crime. They’re not robbing stores or killing somebody. The just want to have a life here with their families,” said Schwartz.

And every day Schwartz sees families that have been separated because of the immigration problems.

Many people who cross the border illegally having kids in the United States , which gives the children US citizenship. Often, parents are deported back to Mexico and leave their kids stranded on the other side of the fences.

Nuvia Joachin is raising her granddaughterbecause her son is awaiting his second deportation to Mexico and her daughter-in-law was arrested during an immigration raid at the McDonald’s restaurant where she worked.

“She misses her mom,” said Joachin. “The first days she didn’t talk at all. Then later she asked me ‘Grandma where’s my mom?’”

But while opponents of the Arizona immigration law tell stories like these, supporters have their own tales to tell.

“There are many, many people who come to this country and they go through the proper channels and they do the proper thing, and the people who don’t do that, they’re breaking the law,” said one supporter.