Illegals seek others to take care of kids

Deportation fears rise in wake of Alabama law

By Jay Reeves

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Oct. 9 2011 9:46 p.m. MDT

In a Monday, Oct. 3, 2011 photo, tomato farmer Leroy Smith, second from left, talks with State Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, in Steele, Ala.

AP Photo/Dave Martin

Enlarge photo»

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Terrified by Alabama's strict new immigration crackdown, parents living in the state illegally say they are doing something that was unthinkable just days ago — asking friends, relatives, co-workers and acquaintances to take their children if they're arrested or deported.

Many illegal immigrants signed documents in the past week allowing others to care for their children if needed, assistance groups say, and a couple living illegally in nearby Shelby County extracted a promise from the man's boss to send their three young children — all U.S. citizens — to Mexico should they be jailed under the law.

A key sponsor of the measure, state Sen. Scott Beason, said such concerns weren't raised when legislators were considering the bill, and he wonders if the stories now are designed to "pull on heart strings" and build sympathy for illegal immigrants.

But for Maria Patino — who prays every time she leaves home — even a chance encounter with police could end with her two elementary-age children being left alone or taken to foster care if she and her husband are sent back to Mexico. Both are in the country illegally and have no friends or relatives close enough to take in the kids.

"Every time I leave I don't know if I will come back," Patino, 27, said through tears. "I can't stop working. My daughters need shoes and other things."

Social worker Jazmin Rivera helps dozens of Spanish-speaking immigrants fill out paperwork weekly, and many are now seeking legal documents called powers of attorney so friends and others could care for their children.

"People are scared, and they want to be sure their kids are safe if something happens to them," said Rivera, a case manager at the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama.

Beason, R-Gardendale, has his doubts about how widespread such cases really are.

"I would do whatever it took for my family to stay with me," he said. "It's beyond my comprehension that you would just leave your children anywhere."

Alabama's law, regarded by many as the toughest in the U.S., was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature this year and signed by Gov. Robert Bentley. A federal judge blocked some parts of it but allowed key pieces to stand — including a provision that allows police to hold suspected illegal immigrants without bond. On Friday, the U.S. Justice Department and civil rights groups asked a federal appeals court to block the law, saying it could lead to discrimination against even legal residents.

However, the law will remain in effect at least until Nov. 29, when the appeals court said it would hear oral arguments.

Immigrant parents say that leaves them little choice other than to seek out people to care for their children because they fear the youngsters — many of whom are U.S. citizens — will be left home alone or sent to foster care if they are suddenly nabbed under the law.

Cristian Gonzalez, 28, said she has informally asked the manager of the rental property where she lives to take care of her 10-year-old daughter should she and her husband be arrested because they are illegal immigrants. The girl, a U.S. citizen who has medals for making good grades, needs to finish school in America and is deeply rooted in Alabama, she said.

Gonzalez said their other three kids are too young to remain and will go back to Mexico with her and her husband even though they are U.S. citizens.

"We're afraid to go back to Mexico because of the drugs, the cartels and the killings," Gonzalez said. "And we are afraid to stay here because of the law."

Mexican authorities have struggled in the fight against drug cartels known for carrying out brutal killings as they try to tighten control over territory. Authorities say that country's drug war has claimed thousands of lives.

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