“Sometimes, if our kids do well at school, they’re targeted,” said a Columbus immigrant parent
Father, mother and child

Late last year, two groups of Columbus immigrants sat down with researchers from the Children Thrive Action Network (CTAN) and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) for private “listening sessions.” Ohio was one of seven states chosen by these national organizations.

Listening to immigrants, who are the real experts in immigration law and policy, themes emerged. Research findings are presented in a new report, “If The Parents Are Okay, The Children Are OK.” Next, CTAN and CLASP will move from listening and analyzing into action, incorporating parents’ recommendations into their advocacy plans.

In Columbus, parents said they were terrified about their kids’ safety going to and from school, and inside the classroom. On top of gun violence, stranger danger, and drugs that look like candy, they are contending with bullying, verbal attacks, and even ethnicity-based hate crimes.

“Sometimes, if our kids do well at school, they’re targeted. If they do bad also, they are bullied and targeted,” said a Columbus parent during the CTAN listening session.

Another key finding is that the “immigration system impoverishes people, both financially and emotionally.” An Ohio woman whose husband was deported has paid over $10,000 to lawyers to try to bring him home. This on top of being a single working mother of young children. The family is still apart.

The cruel tool of immigration jail, with its predatory phone companies; lack of access to legal help; and emotional and physical stresses are yet another “tax” immigrant families are forced to pay. Two women in one of the Ohio sessions paid $250 a week to speak to their husbands, for 15 minutes a day, while they were in immigration jail. Then they were deported.

Despite the difficulties, researchers found, many immigrants still hold out hope that they and their families will find a sense of community and belonging in the United States.

“They would like to be seen as parents and families wanting a better life for their children, just like anyone else, free from the burden of preconceived notions about their perceived racial/ethnic identity, religion, or country of origin,” writes Suma Setty, the report author.

“They need to understand that we are not here to take, and we don’t necessarily come here for [a] better life. A lot of us have good lives. I came here for the freedom to be able to live in a society where law and order exists. You know I don’t have that in my country....The media and everything, the narrative ha[s] to change. We have to be the one telling our stories, not some media, not Fox,” said a Columbus parent during a CTAN listening session.

Researchers also spoke with teenage children of immigrants and found that they are “proud of their parents for overcoming barriers to give them opportunities their parents may not have had in their countries of origin.” 

It’s easy to see why. The parents who attended these listening sessions in Ohio and around the country have navigated a lot. They’ve spent long, frustrating hours working through bureaucracies for their children – from the immigration system to health care, schools, and more – often in a language they are still learning.

Spouses of deported men have become single mothers overnight, while their husbands want nothing more than to come home to the U.S, go to work, and take care of their families again. The fear of deportation, too, is a constant stress for parents who do not have a stable immigration status.

“If something happens to us in the future, [my son] is only 17 and he doesn’t have to be in charge of his siblings. He shouldn’t have to have that responsibility. He has the right to enjoy his youth and this life moment....We have watched in the news parents being caught and children staying here and struggling. So, when we see those situations, we think about our children. Who would they stay with?” said an Illinois parent during a CTAN listening session.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the results of the CTAN listening sessions. We urge you to read the entire report.

The Ohio Immigrant Alliance works with immigrants, allies, and pro-immigrant leaders and organizations to expand our voices and our power.