As she watches her three children play on the living room floor, Karina Roblero, 27, smiles.
Her family lives in a small, one-bedroom apartment off Broadway Avenue, where passing cars toss their garbage at the footsteps of their home. They don’t have much, just a couple of chairs and a cluttered dining room table that holds a microwave, a stack of bills and a basket of ripening fruit, leaving hardly any homework space. The kitchen is tiny and the stove barely works. A few steps away is a dimly lit bedroom where Roblero and her children share a bed.
Her 9-year-old daughter, Alejandra, sits in the living room reading a book of fairy tales, her favorite type of stories next to stories about fossils and rock formations. She’s an honor roll student, proud of all the awards and certificates she has received at school. She hangs some in frames by the front door and is eager to show them off to guests. The rest, she puts away safely, as if they were made of gold.
“I can show them to the police so they know we’re good,” she tells a visitor.
Alejandra says she dreams of being president of the United States one day.
Her mom wears an ankle bracelet on her right foot. It’s a reminder that immigration officials are monitoring her for entering the country without papers and that they are ready to deport her to her native Guatemala.
Alejandra was born in this country, as was her 2-year-old brother, Elder, who now plays a rowdy game of blocks with their Guatemalan-born sister, Adicruz, 5. But like many other U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants, Alejandra, a girl whose English is so good she often serves as a translator for immigrant kids at school, lives in a different kind of detention.
Alejandra knows her mother can be taken away at any time, just as her biological father was. And she knows her stepfather is detained and destined for deportation.
She doesn’t understand the logistics of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“They’re the ones that take people back to their country, but they also keep us safe,” says the girl. On balance, she admits she’s scared of them and the uncertainty they beam on her family’s day-to-day life.
Sometime after Alejandra’s biological father was deported, the family was left without a home. Roblero, who was pregnant with her second daughter, thought it best to move the family back to Guatemala. But for the next couple of years, Alejandra longed to be back in Florida, where teachers from the Guatemalan-Maya Center had introduced her to books and public libraries and school subjects her family knew nothing about.
The journey back to the United States would be arduous. A 20-day trek left Roblero and her two young daughters with hungry stomachs and filthy, ripped clothes. Alejandra doesn’t have that much to say about the tunnel through which she had to run to cross the border into Texas, but she remembers the bright city lights and “the nice” cars once she got to the other side. She was back home.
But the hurdles didn’t end there. Border Patrol stopped the family in Texas. Although they allowed them to continue on their journey to West Palm Beach, they kept a close eye on her mother. In August, they fastened the monitor to her ankle. Now her mother has weekly home visits from immigration officials, along with mandatory monthly appointments at their offices.
While Roblero knows the days of the visits, no time is specified so she cannot go to work at her landscaping job. Because of lost work, she struggles to pay rent and other necessities each month. As the sole provider for her children, Roblero works long hours and is often sad that she sees them for only a few hours a day and can’t be with them on special occasions, like Alejandra’s birthday.
It lands on Halloween each year and once again, Alejandra spent most of the day without her mother, who didn’t get home till after 7 p.m. Instead, she and her siblings spent the day next door with a lady who cares for them when her mom is working. Her neighbor couldn’t offer Alejandra a gift, so instead she took the kids trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. It was their first time.
Alejandra was so excited about the candy and “scares” she received along the way that she wasn’t bothered about not having a party or presents, but she did miss her mom. She hopes it’s a feeling she doesn’t have to get used to.
Young Alejandra Mendez-Roblero, 9, dreams of being president of the United States one day, but her reality is that the head of her household, her stepfather, is in immigration detention and destined for deportation, and her mother may be taken away by immigration officials any day. Her mother hopes to leave Alejandra and her two younger siblings in West Palm Beach with an uncle in a stable home so the U.S.-born girl can achieve her educational dreams. Their day-to-day life in a tiny, barely furnished, rented apartment, is a gamble and filled with uncertainty. Even so, the girl is a top student in her third grade class and has a collection of honor awards to show for it. The family dreams of having a mobile home they can call their own — nothing big, just a modest home with a working kitchen, furniture and a separate bedroom for the girls. Alejandra would love a computer to help her study. The girl also dreams of having a desk where she can do homework and store her books.
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Photography by Calla Kessler / Staff
Nominated by The Guatemalan-Maya Center