msnbc News   |  May 26, 2010

Families separated by deportation

Between 1998 and 2007 authorities deported over 108,000 parents of children who are U.S. citizens. Telemundo's Maria Celeste explores what happens to the children that are left behind.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> between 1998 and 2007 the u.s. deported more than 108,000 parents of children who were u.s. citizens . what happens after these families are divided by deportation? what happens to the children that stay here alone? the host of telemundo -- joins us now. good to see you.

>> good to see you, too, jose. what happens is truly heart wrenching. because the kids are forced to grow up way too fast. it's estimated that 5 million children born in the u.s. are going through that ordeal right now because either one or both parents were undocumented immigrants and have been deported. what you're about to see is the story of one such family. they are teens you might see anywhere. 14-year-old kathy, a competitive swimmer. 16-year-old matt, a star soccer player. 19-year-old jonathan, a premed student. all three born in the united states and raised in south florida . living the american dream . until three years ago when a family secret turned into a federal case. their mother, claudia, illegally in the u.s., was arrested for violating immigration laws by overstaying her visa. tell me exactly what happened that morning?

>> i look and see two big guys with i.c.e. jackets. i was like, at first it didn't click in.

>> then my mom was rushing in the room, grabbing papers and stuff like that. so i said what was going on? she said, they're taking me.

>> when i got to school, i started crying and crying. i couldn't stop. because i -- like, it clicked in what happened.

>> reporter: did she get a chance to tell you anything right before she left?

>> i love you.

>> reporter: after 17 years in this country, their mother was deported back to her native country , colombia .

>> it's been tough for them.

>> reporter: she now lives 1,600 mimes miles away .

>> i miss my kids.

>> reporter: today is a good day . her son, jonathan, is visiting.

>> she's caring. loving. always there. always has good advice.

>> reporter: what would you say has been the hardest thing of having your mom away?

>> not having a mother figure there looking over you. and helping you out.

>> i have to wake up knowing m to be here. that we're not going to have a mom until we go visit her. it's not the same.

>> reporter: besides visits, claudia keeps up with her children through phone calls and facebook. immigration lawyer alphonso vieira says the kids are not alone.

>> we feel there are about 5 million children in the situation where their parents have been deported or are in the process of being deported.

>> reporter: plans to file a class action lawsuit claiming u.s. laws separating parents from their u.s. born children violate civil rights .

>> there is a lawful process by which people can immigrate to the united states . when we find all these exceptions for people to be able to stay here even though they violated the law, why should anybody ever go through the legal system?

>> reporter: in an nbc/msnbc/telemundo poll out today, a majority of americans agree. 61% say they support arizona's tough new anti- illegal immigration law. a is a very sad case, but too bad. your mother shouldn't have come here in the first place. what would you say to that.

>> to have a heart.

>> reporter: the ramirez kids are really wonderful, wonderful children. which speaks volumes about the way their mother brought them up.

>> a lot of people would say this is a heart wrenching situation. why don't they just pick up and go be in colombia with the family and that way unite in colombia ?

>> i did ask them that question. they say after the mother was taken away they thought about it a lot. they decided against it. why? this country is all they know. they were born and raised here. english is their first language. they hardly know the language in colombia . it's a foreign country to us.

>> i love your last question with them. it kind of leads me to ask a secondary question, which is, all right. you know, it's no fault of theirs that their parents came here illegally. united states that this happened. in other words, the we is, what is it that we could do going forward now when the reality is like this family 5 million times over?

>> there are no easy answers. the important thing is we have to understand we are responsible for these children that are american, that are here. and they stay behind . so we're responsible for their well-being. of course, this separation of families has incredible debtment detrimental effects on the children.

>> thank you so much for being with us.