Then and Now — Immigration Order Brings Ala. Family Hope for Education, Future
The Pachecos of Foley, Ala., are like so many immigrant families living in the United States.
Parents Maritelma Ixmatlahua and Juan Pablo Pacheco are undocumented immigrants. Their son, Juan Pablo Pacheco Jr., was 3-years old when his parents moved to southern Alabama from Mexico. Now 14, he didn’t learn he was undocumented until three years ago. Daughter Ruby Pacheco, 9, was born in Foley, a community of 8,000 near the resort area of Gulf Shores. She is a U.S. citizen.
In May 2012, Education Week interviewed and photographed the Pacheco family as part of a special report on educational outcomes for Latino students. The Pachecos agreed to share their experiences living in the wake of Alabama’s harsh anti-immigration law, which sought to push the state’s population of undocumented immigrants—most from Mexico like the Pachecos—out of the state. Most of the law was later declared unconstitutional in federal court.
The family’s biggest fear at the time—especially for Juan Pablo Jr.—was that Maritelma and Juan Pablo Sr. would be deported. The parents considered moving the family back to their home state of Veracruz in Mexico before authorities might detain and separate them from their children. But the idea of abandoning the educational and economic opportunities offered to their children in the U.S. convinced them that staying was worth the risk of deportation. They also had an incredible support system in their local church and in their children’s public schools in Foley.
Now, two and a half years later, the dread of detention and deportation that hung over the family has disappeared.
Mobile, Ala.,-based photographer Sharon Steinmann went to the Pachecos’ small trailer home on Thanksgiving, seven days after President Barack Obama had announced his executive order on immigration. That action will grant temporary legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants like Maritelma and Juan Pablo Sr.—the parents of U.S.-born children. Juan Pablo Jr. is also eligible for relief under the president’s 2012 order that gives temporary legal status to undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.
As Maritelma said in an interview with Steinmann: “We are very happy and grateful for the opportunity to stay here and to not have to leave this country.” And now, she said, Juan Pablo Jr. won’t miss out on a chance to finish his high school education in the United States and go to college.