Parents of immigrants struggle to help their children succeed

In 1992, at the age of 18, Saul Alemàn fled his hometown of San Luis Potosi, Mexico.

After three days of fearful running from immigration control, Alemàn made it safely to the United States to work toward building a life for his future.

Girlfriend Cristina Alfaro remained in Mexico, where on July 24, 1992, she gave birth to their first son, Saul Alemàn Jr. She was only 15.

Four years later, Alfaro and her son trekked to Texas without documents. Then, a few days later, they moved to Homestead, where they still struggle with the challenges posed by the lack of documentation.

“You restrict yourself from a lot of things in order to move ahead in life,” Alfaro said.

Alemàn, a landscaper the past 13 years, said one of the most difficult parts of being undocumented is driving without a driver’s license.

Each time Alemàn steps into his vehicle, he risks being deported to Mexico, but he refuses to live in fear.

“If it’s my fate, it’s my fate,” Alemàn said.

Though Alemàn took a dangerous path, the family believes the move was right.

“If I had to do it again, I definitely would,” Alfaro, his wife, said.

the family first arrived, their son was extremely resentful, a feeling that heightened through high school as he realized the problems of being undocumented, specifically the inability to attend most colleges or universities.

Even so, Alemàn and Alfaro knew how many opportunities their son would have here rather than in Mexico. They constantly reminded him that if he worked hard, he could live his dreams without worrying about finances.

“When I look at it now, I am so thankful they made that decision and so grateful,” Alemàn Jr. said.

Alemàn Jr. is considered a DREAMer in proposed federal legislation called the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors). Stalled in Congress, the bill defines a DREAMer as an undocumented immigrant who came to the United States before the age of 16, has lived in the states for more than five years and is under the age of 35.

The Florida Legislature approved House Bill 851, effective July 1, which grants in-state tuition to Florida DREAMers. As a parent, Alemàn feels that the bill, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, will open doors for undocumented immigrants.

“It opens up many opportunities for those who do not have economic means and who want to be professionals,” Alfaro said. “It is a pretty important accomplishment.”

Alemàn Jr. graduated from South Dade Senior High School in 2011 and, with the help of the Immigrant Rights Movement, he was able to attend Miami Dade College and graduate with his associate’s degree in 2013. He plans to return to school and finish his bachelor’s degree, using the Florida in-state tuition waiver.

Alfaro said the two degrees were shared accomplishments.

“I realized my role as a mother and a person,” Alfaro said.

Because Alemàn Jr. immigrated to the United States before he was 16, he was eligible to apply for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a policy change by the Obama administration to defer deportation for DREAMers who go to college, hold jobs or enter military service. Although this will not give Alemàn Jr. a path to citizenship, it will allow him to work and obtain a driver’s license.

Alfaro worries over the chance that Alemàn Jr. will not be able to renew his DACA status.
“What happens if they take it away? I don’t know,” Alfaro said.

Now, 17 years after coming to the United States, Alemàn and Alfaro have four boys, Saul Jr., Carlos, Bryan and Chris.

Alemàn and Alfaro said that as parents, they live in fear of the unknown – that every day they face the risk of deportation and a split family.

Alfaro said that if she ever got deported to Mexico, Alemàn Jr. and Carlos, the eldest boys, would survive and support themselves.

But she tries not to think about the “what ifs” because that would mean leaving her two youngest children, Bryan and Chris, behind as well.

Although Alemàn and Alfaro are not likely to ever receive citizenship, they harbor no resentment.

“How could you resent something that has given you so much and so many opportunities to live a stable life?” Alfaro said.

They are, as they say, extremely happy with their “beautiful life.”