It may be difficult to imagine a young person feeling the weight of their family’s future on their shoulders, but at an immigration hearing when he was 15, that was exactly how Giovani Barrios felt.
“I remember being in front of the judge, lawyers and other people testifying in favor of my parents,” said Barrios. “I felt that my family’s entire future was on my shoulders, and I was terrified.”
Now 18, Barrios’ story started in 1997 when his father moved to Cedar Rapids. His father had been earning less than $4 a day as a construction worker in Mexico, making it impossible to provide a good life for his small family.
A year later, his mother moved to the United States with their one-year-old child. Soon after she joined her husband in Cedar Rapids, she became pregnant with Giovani.
Life was great for a few years as they worked to achieve the American dream.
Although his parents worked long hours, they always made time for Barrios and his brother, who added that he only had fond memories from childhood. But when he was 7, the family learned his maternal grandfather died in Mexico. Barrios’ mother insisted on attending the funeral; she wanted to say her last goodbye. To lose a loved one is difficult enough, but to attend a funeral at the risk of not being able to return to your home is a choice most don’t have to worry about.
As an undocumented immigrant, living in the shadows is not easy, and in most cases is not by choice. Hesitant about the trip, they hired an attorney to help them figure out the proper paperwork to safely return to the U.S.
Barrios’ father wanted assurance from immigration authorities that their paperwork was in line with the requirements for their trip. Unfortunately, the so-called lawyer gave them false documents and his father was arrested. After a month of legal battles, he was finally released, but it was impossible to attend the funeral back in Mexico.
Two years later, Barrios’ mother was driving to a football game when she was pulled over by the police. The officer realized she didn’t have a driver’s license and decided to contact immigration, resulting in her detention. Although she was released by ICE, now both parents were in the deportation process.
The constant fear of deportation took a toll on Barrios; he was diagnosed with depression in his junior year of high school.
In “Facing the Fear of Deportation,” a University of Southern California School of Social Work article, Dr. Concepcion Barrio said: “Just knowing that your parents are undocumented, even if they are not in the process of deportation, produces a state of persistent stress which has both physical, as well as psychological and emotional consequences.”
In April 2017, Barrios’ father was deported to Mexico. His mother was able to stay and eventually obtained her permanent residency. His brother is studying in Connecticut through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA] program. Barrios decided to stay home and attends community college to study political science.
“For now, I decided to stay home and help my mom while my brother is away attending college,” he said. “She needs me here.”
Although Barrios is only 18, he had to grow up fast. Now he has to think about his mother and the well-being of his family. Unfortunately, this is a common story impacting many young Latinos. In addition to the stress of being a teenager, they also learn to live with the fear of deportation.
“For the last presidential election, I remember watching every state being called, thinking to myself that it wasn’t real, like [Donald] Trump being elected was a bad dream,” Barrios said. “I think I just felt defeated. Here you had somebody who represented the worst of our country, and he had just ascended to the highest office. There was a lot of uncertainty and definitely fear, this couldn’t be happening.”
Barrios supported former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke for president this year because he felt he was “genuinely interested in the Latino community and youth.” Now that O’Rourke is no longer in the presidential race, he doesn’t know who to support, but said he understood that voting for the right presidential candidate could make the difference for his family and the entire Latino community. He also wants a president who cares about climate change and social justice.
Barrios still believes his family can have a better future; he wants his dad back home and his family together.
Barrios said he shared his story because he wanted others to understand why it was important to implement comprehensive immigration reform. He wanted others to understand that all his family wanted was to live without fear, work hard and feel apart of this community.
“We’re not criminals, we’re good people,” he said.
By Claudia Thrane