Divided by Law

Siblings unite when immigration law separates their family.

Arizona Daily Star / tucson.com
Arizona Public Media
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Why we're doing this story

The nation's unauthorized population has swelled to about 11 million, many of whom put down roots here and started families. They are parents to about 4.5 million U.S. citizen children.

In the midst of the legal battle regarding undocumented parents of U.S. citizens, and with birthright citizenship in the spotlight, there is a growing number of American children stuck in the middle. No matter what side of the immigration debate one takes, these are American citizens… the next generation of police officers, school teachers, doctors and army soldiers.

This story offers a glimpse into the challenges they face.

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The de la Rosa Family

It's the first day of school and the de la Rosa siblings each have a job to do.

Naomi sweeps the floor, then rushes out the door. Oldest brother Jim is driving her to Pueblo Magnet High School, where she is a sophomore.

The de la Rosa Family Since Gloria, center right, was banned from returning to the United States six years ago, her husband Arsenio, who is nearly twice her age, and the children visit her in Nogales, Sonora every other weekend.

Ten-year-old Bobby checks on their father as he waits for Bill, the second oldest, to get off the phone and walk him to school.

“Are you going to have cereal? Come on, then, I'll get you some.” Bobby leads the way as his 82-year-old dad leans on a walker and shuffles to the kitchen.

Bobby has already made his own breakfast: a peanut butter sandwich.

“Here's your banana and a knife,” the fifth-grader tells his father as he plants a goodbye kiss on the man's forehead.

Their mother, Gloria, is 60 miles away from this bustle, alone in her little apartment in Nogales, Sonora, getting ready for another day cleaning houses.

In 2009, Gloria Arellano de la Rosa, 46, went to Juárez, Mexico, for what she thought would be an appointment to get her green card. It seemed like a slam dunk — she was following legal advice and was sponsored by her husband of more than a decade. Instead, she faced a 10-year ban from returning to the United States because years before she crossed illegally after overstaying a visa.

If she were to cross illegally again, she would risk her chance of ever being able to live here without fear of deportation.

Gloria and her husband, Arsenio de la Rosa, thought about moving the whole family south of the border. In the end, Bobby lived with Gloria for a year in Nogales, Sonora. Then Jim and Bill appealed to their parents to do what was best for the baby of the family, and that meant bringing him to a place where he has more opportunity — but no mother.

The de la Rosas illustrate the complexity of U.S. immigration law. The kids, all born in the United States, are American citizens and have every right to stay. Arsenio, who was born in Nogales, Sonora to an American citizen, didn't apply for his citizenship until the early 2000s.

In this video, see photos of the family while Bill shares his perspective on how each of his siblings was affected by the family's separation.

They first tried to legalize Gloria's status in 2003, but a notary filed the wrong paperwork. Then in 2008 her application was denied in Tucson and she was told that she had to apply from her native country. When she went to Juárez to do that, she learned that leaving the United States triggered a ban created in 1996 to penalize those who came here illegally and stayed.

The missteps, the bad advice, the delays that stand between Gloria and legal residency are common challenges for families that straddle the U.S.-Mexico border. The nation's unauthorized population has swelled to about 11 million, many of whom put down roots here and started families. They are parents to about 4.5 million U.S. citizen children, the Pew Research Center estimates.

Because of the lack of stability in their family lives, multiple studies show the kids in that group are less likely to do well in school and are more likely to live in poverty and battle depression and anxiety.

That's not just bad for those kids and their families; it's bad for all of us, says Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, dean at the University of California in Los Angeles and co-author of several reports on the subject.

“Think about a generation from now — who do you think are going to be your cops, your nurses, your doctors, your lawyers?” he asks. “It's going to be these children.”

But the odds are against them.

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“I knew they needed someone strong to wear a different mask in front of them.”


It was a warm afternoon in October 2009 and Bill came home from school to wait for a phone call from his parents. They had traveled to Ciudad Juárez for Gloria's long-awaited immigration appointment.

When the phone rang, the high-school sophomore rushed to pick it up. Behind his mother's voice he could hear the rain.

Mijo, no me la dieron,” she said. They didn't give it to me.

“What do you mean no?” he asked.

“They said I have to wait 10 years.”

His mother had been nervous about leaving the country, but Bill was confident. Each time she got an immigration letter, he translated it for her and reassured her everything was fine.

“There's no way they won't let you in,” he would tell her. She had no criminal record. She volunteered in the community. She helped out at her kids' schools and at church.

“You have four American citizen children. My dad is old and struggles with his health.”

Then 15, Bill felt his world was turned upside down. What would happen to their family? Would they have to leave everything behind and go with their mother?

He hung up the phone and stared at a family photo taken when he was 13. Arsenio, in a gray suit and cowboy hat, looks into the camera with a stern look on his face; Gloria, young and beautiful, wears a pink shirt and holds Bobby, who was a toddler; Naomi poses next to their dad while Bill and Jim stand in the back.

It was the last picture of the entire family, all together in one place. It still sits on the living room table today.

Bill has always been the mover and shaker of the family.

So immediately after hanging up the phone that day, he got to work.

Bill de la Rosa Bill de la Rosa packs and says goodbye to family before catching his flight back to college in Maine. He tells his younger siblings to do good in school and promises to check in on them a couple of times a week.

First, he broke the news to Jim, who was 17, the oldest of the de la Rosa siblings.

“Shut up,” was his big brother's unbelieving response.

“They gave her 10 years,” Bill relayed, but that was the extent of his knowledge.

“What's going to happen now?” Jim wanted to know.

“I don't know.”

Bill's confident demeanor and thick-rimmed glasses make him look every bit the politician he hopes to be one day. He describes himself as an average, responsible young man just doing what needs to be done, but his drive is anything but ordinary.

When Gloria struggled to find a full-time job, Bill — then just 8 years old — sold flour tortillas and tamales around south Tucson: $1 for a dozen tortillas, $8 for a dozen of his mom's homemade tamales.

He was never afraid to ask for help when he or his siblings needed it, always finding sponsors so he could play baseball or go on school trips his parents couldn't afford.

This time was no different. He called lawyers, lawmakers, anyone he thought could help. He asked Adelita Grijalva, daughter of Congressman Raúl Grijalva and Tucson Unified School District board member he had met while volunteering for Pima County Teen Court, for a letter telling the judge how important it is that his mom stay with the family.

“Instead of sort of falling apart and saying, 'I'm in high school and this is a lot for me to deal with,' he just dealt with it,” Adelita Grijalva says.

Soon he had formed a network of family and church friends who checked up on the family and dropped off prepared meals. He taught himself how to cook by looking up recipes on the Internet and calling his mother in Nogales.

He made sure his siblings did their homework, that all his father's medical appointments were scheduled. He often stayed up past midnight to finish assignments once everyone was in bed.

When his mother called from the border — in those early months she would lean against the metal fence and sob for hours, looking towards the U.S. — he would try to calm her down.

When she said she couldn't do it anymore, he asked her to be patient.

He tried to remain strong for the rest of the family.

“As long as I saw them happy, that was a self-comforting process for me,” he says. In his room, alone, he would cry, usually out of sadness that his siblings were so sad. Then he would shelve those emotions: “I guess I turned that despair into something else.”

Bill's motivation to work hard and strive for success comes from his parents, who always told him that education was his ticket out of poverty. When he and Jim were in elementary school, Gloria would take them to the hotel where she worked. While she cleaned the rooms, they helped change pillowcases or empty trash cans.

She wanted them to see what it was like to work for a living.

“See how much your mother is working because she didn't go to school?” she would say. She only finished fourth grade before she had to contribute to her household.

Bill de la Rosa Bill de la Rosa imagines a life where all of them are living together again. "My mom will get to see my sister graduate from college, going to Bobby’s high school graduation. She’s missed a lot of things but there’s still some events she could go to. I told her that I wouldn’t get married until she gets back."

Bill learned the lesson well. He became part of the National Honor Society and the Student Advisory Council. He founded the College Admissions Club at Pueblo to motivate students to go strive for higher education.

He travels the country participating in leadership conferences and accepting awards — including the Harry S. Truman scholarship, a highly competitive and prestigious scholarship for students with demonstrated leadership potential and a commitment to public service. With the honor came a letter from President Obama, which Bill read to his mother when he visited her in Nogales this summer.

He is studying sociology and Latin American studies with a minor in government and legal studies and is in his last year of college. After that, he plans to work to help foster relations between Mexico and the United States and is “slowly trying to find alternative routes to tackling this issue” of immigration.

Bill was the valedictorian of Pueblo's Class of 2012 and was named one of 1,000 Gates Millennium scholars nationwide, which got him a full ride to Bowdoin College in Maine, one of the nation's top liberal arts schools.

He dedicated in Spanish his high school graduation speech, to his mother. Although she wasn't there with him, he said, she was in his heart and he loved her.

It was one of the moments when he missed her the most — he was there because of her, yet she couldn't see him walk up on that stage. She couldn't hear him give his speech.

When he was offered a scholarship to Bowdoin he struggled with the decision. He knew he could accomplish more if he went, but with him gone and Jim off in the U.S. Marine Corps, it would be up to Naomi to carry the household.

One night before he left, he took her out for dinner at Panda Express.

“Look, I'm going to be gone, now it's going be up to you,” he told her. “You have these responsibilities, but don't be afraid to ask for help.

“Make sure my Dad's OK, make sure he's eating properly and most importantly, stay on top of Bobby. Don't let him fall apart. Support him, stay on top of school and don't let him fall behind.”

Naomi was 12 years old.

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“I have two lives, the student life and the mom life.”


With their mother in Mexico and the rest of the family in Tucson, Naomi knew she had to grow up fast.

With her small hands she grabbed a broom and a mop to help keep the house tidy — not the way her mom used to do it, but as best she could.

She learned how to prepare her father's morning coffee just the way he liked it: one teaspoon of instant coffee and four spoonfuls of brown sugar stirred into three-parts water and one part milk — served with a small silver spoon in the white cup with chips on the sides.

She has been the family's head cook and housekeeper since she was 9 years old. Now 15, she starts her days at 6:15 a.m., when the alarm on her phone blasts pop music.

She brushes and tightens her curls or pulls her long black hair up in a bun, applies mascara and gets ready for school. She takes about two hours to get ready, finishing off with a spritz of body spray that smells of flowers.

Most of the time she skips breakfast at home and grabs a bite at school.

When she gets home there's cleaning to do. She decides what to make for dinner and does the dishes before she starts on her homework.

“How did you do your sardines?” she asks her older brother Bill one Saturday when he is home for the summer.

“I can't remember,” he replies as he prepares chicken for lunch.

Naomi de la Rosa Naomi de la Rosa, right, does her hair as she gets ready for a summer school class in the morning. Her father, Arsenio, has just awoken to begin his day. Even though Arsenio is 82 and has limited mobility, to Naomi's eyes, "His health is pretty good. I would say someone who is 60 has my dad’s health."

In equal parts Spanish and English, she tells him she tried to make some like his, but they didn't turn out. She was going to call him for advice, she says, but didn't.

Gloria tries to send home meals to Tucson with visiting family members so her only daughter doesn't always have to cook. But Naomi doesn't mind.

Music keeps her company as she scrubs the toilet or makes her dad's bed. She carries her iPhone wherever she goes, humming to Britney Spears' “Pretty Girl” or whatever is playing on pop radio.

She does all of this while still making mostly A's and taking advanced classes. The only exception is a C in art, which Bill wanted her to make up so it wouldn't drag down her grade point average and risk her chances of getting into Bowdoin — his college choice for her because he's already built a network of support there — even though she is a sophomore.

He suggested he could talk with her teacher and offer to take a trip to a museum and do a 10-page report to raise her grade. She never got around to it.

Her brother is her role model and she usually follows his advice.

“I like to have someone there for me,” she says, even when it gets annoying.

Naomi wants to go to college and help the community, perhaps by becoming a teacher or maybe a counselor.

Her first experience in Bill's world was this summer, when she volunteered as a juror for the Pima County Teen Court, which he has been involved with every year since middle school.

“Oh my God, dude, it was so much fun — like, I'm not even lying!” she tells Bill when he picks her up after the first day.

She had been nervous to go, and feared she was overdressed in her purple shirt and black slacks. But she was quick to make friends, chatting between cases with a group of girls about their favorite TV shows. Hers is “Pretty Little Liars,” a teen mystery-thriller. She loves thrillers and scary movies.

Afterwards, she tells Bill about the case of a guy who had marijuana on him and got arrested, and the case of a boy who said he threw a rock in self-defense. In another case, a girl got in trouble for spraying perfume in the classroom.

“Were you the foreperson?” he asks her.


“Why not?”

“This girl who was right next to me. I was going to be, but then I was like, hmm …”

She trails off and Bill tells her how he was attorney in Teen Court and how he took the bus from their house in the south side of Tucson to the Ronstadt Transit Center wearing a suit and tie.

She wants to do it again, she says, when she is not in Nogales with her mom.

Naomi doesn't visit as often as her little brother Bobby, who spends his summers there, because she has to clean and cook for her dad. Besides, she doesn't feel too comfortable there.

“A lot of people stare at you and they disrespect you,” she says. “Like, let's say there's a 40-year-old guy passing by and a little girl and he's like, ‘Wow, you're really hot.'”

She never seriously considered living in Nogales with her mother, she says, because of her school. She sees her mother as a warrior for sacrificing so much for them, but their relationship is not the same.

Naomi de la Rosa With her boyfriend Fidel Delgado, Naomi de la Rosa, center, smiles and takes in the scene at a friend's quinceañera at the Tucson Expo Center. She didn’t have a quinceañera herself because she didn’t want one, she said, but even if she did, it would have been hard for her mother to plan her 15th birthday party because she is in Nogales, Sonora and money is tight.

Without a mom around, Naomi has found refuge in her younger brother Bobby and family friend Lety Rodriguez.

“Lety is so funny — she's so crazy too, good crazy,” Naomi says. “She's always like, ‘Don't be sticking your butt out.' Her daughter Selena is like my best friend. She's like another Bobby, someone I can trust.”

Rodriguez was there for Naomi's fifth-grade promotion. She has been there when Bobby or even Gloria called to say Naomi wasn't feeling well.

“I would imagine what if it was my daughter who had a toothache and I wasn't there to tuck her in or that they go to bed on an empty stomach,” Lety says. “That hurts.”

Naomi is still a teenager who bickers with her siblings, but she is aware that she balances multiple roles.

“The student life is to always do good in school, don't let drama get to you,” she says. “Then, the mom life is like, this needs to be clean, what if visitors come?”

The mom life is also about Bobby.

When their mom first went to live in Mexico, Bobby was not quite 4.

“Every night I would cry myself to sleep,” she says. But then she would look at her little brother sleeping next to her and see what a baby he still was.

“I would hug him and I would be crying,” she says. “But then I would be, like, ‘No, no, I'm strong' and wipe those tears and go to sleep.”

One night after Gloria had left for Mexico, Naomi woke up to go to the bathroom and saw a silhouette in the middle of the hallway. It was Bobby, with his eyes full of tears.

The siblings went to work. Bill took Bobby back to bed to read him tales like "La Llorona," the ghostly story of the weeping woman, which their mom used to tell them. Jim made a puppet show with blankets and a big teddy bear. Naomi warmed up some strawberry milk.

Their mom was a country away. Their aging dad's health was fading fast. But they had each other — and that's something she would not let Bobby forget.

On the nights they missed their mother most, she would hug her little brother tight and make him a promise: “I'm right here for you.”

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“I feel sad that I can’t see my mom when I come home from school.”


His big sister Naomi is Bobby's “best, best, best, best friend.”

“She makes me laugh when I'm sad,” says Bobby, 10. “She hugs me when I'm scared and teaches me not to be scared.”

He's been sad and scared too often in the last six years, as he is shuttled between two countries and two homes. During the weekends, when he and Naomi spend time at their mother's small apartment in Nogales, Sonora, Gloria often finds them cuddling, holding hands while they sleep.

In 2011, when their elderly father was in the hospital from a collapsed lung and their mother couldn't visit, Naomi worked hard to keep Bobby's spirits high.

“She told me if I'm gonna cry to just make myself laugh, think of something funny,” he says. “Or she would make me laugh by making me watch videos or say jokes.”

One time she even took him to a parent-teacher conference.

“I come to represent the father,” Naomi, then 11, confidently told the teachers when they asked who she was.

In many ways, Naomi is equal parts big sister, best friend and mom to Bobby.

The day everything changed, Bobby had gone with his parents to Juárez, not really sure what was going on. He remembers coming back to Tucson after visiting his abuela María in Zacatecas, having no idea that his mother would have to stay in Mexico until Bobby turned 14.

Bobby de la Rosa Bobby and Naomi have a tight bond. "My best best best best friend is Naomi,” Bobby says. “She makes me laugh when I’m sad or she hugs me when I’m scared and teaches me not to be scared."

At first he lived with his father in Tucson, but then Arsenio had a stroke and Gloria decided it would be best for Bobby to move to Nogales, Sonora with her and enrolled him in first grade.

When he was in Nogales, he missed his sister, his brothers, his dad. But when he was in Tucson he missed his mom and his friends.

“It was confusing,” he says.

After a year, the family decided he needed to move back to Tucson.

You can't be selfish, older brothers Bill and Jim told their mother — Bobby should have the same opportunities we have. Besides, he is a U.S. citizen. What good will a Mexican education do him?

So she let go.

The situation is fraught with challenges. Bobby feels sad that he doesn't see his mom when he comes home from school. And he has struggled in class. Several times the school has called big brother Bill or family friend Lety Rodriguez to say he is behind in his reading.

Rodriguez thinks it's all part of having a family divided.

“When his dad was in the bathroom or in his bedroom, I would ask, 'Mijo what's going on? You have to apply yourself so you can read at least 20 minutes a day' and he would stay quiet and stare at the picture of his mom,” Rodriguez says.

One day, his teacher was reading a story about an orphan and Bobby started crying. It hit him, he said later: His mother was away in Mexico and his father, who is in poor health, could die.

He would be left without parents. The thought still frightens him today. With time, he has come to understand a little bit about immigration and why his family is separated.

Bobby de la Rosa Now that Jim has started college, Bobby has to help take care of their elderly father after school. "I need to help him get up so he can start walking. What worries me is that he falls and hits his head or something like that..."

Last school year, Democratic U.S. Congressman Raúl Grijalva stopped by Mission View Elementary School to talk to the students. As he was talking about his roots and his support for the community, Bobby raised his hand.

“How do you help people cross the border that are separated from their family like my mom?” he asked, so softly that someone had to repeat the question for the Arizona congressman.

A few weeks later, at Grijalva's invitation, Bobby shared his family's story before about 200 people, including U.S. congressmen, during an immigration forum at Pima Community College.

“I try not to be sad knowing I will have to leave without her back to the United States, where we live her dreams for her of a good education,” he read from a speech he had practiced for many afternoons with his counselor, Liz Hoover.

“The immigration laws have kept my mother away but not her spirit, her words and her hope that motivate her kids,” he continued. Naomi recorded the speech with her phone from the front row and reassured him with a smile. Many in the audience were in tears.

What Bobby wanted people to understand, he says, is that “it's not fair that kids could only be with one parent and that the kids would have to go to the mom to see her and that the mom couldn't come to them. It's hard to live like that.”

So much about it is hard. Every year since starting school, Bobby got extra help from an after-school program. But this year he has to go straight home to stay with his dad until Naomi gets off school.

“I need to help him get up so he can start walking,” he says, and then he starts to cry. “What worries me is that he falls and hits his head or something like that, because Jim is going to have to start going to college at 2:15 and I get home at 2:40.”

Those are the things that worry him the most.

“I think about my dad and how his health is and my mom and how she's far away from him,” he says. “And Naomi is going to go to college and I'm not going to be close to her and Bill's not always gonna be here. Jim might be the only one that I would be able to talk to, or my friends.”

When he thinks scary thoughts like that, he tries to go back to his video games so he can stop thinking them.

But sometimes it helps him to think about his brother Jim, who moved back home to play with him and to make him laugh.

Jim has become Bobby's other best, best, best friend.

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“It caused problems, big problems, but I’m proud of her for wanting to do it the legit way.”


For the past four years, Jim's life has been all about the U.S. Marine Corps.

Ever since he was in middle school, he wanted to be in the military. He liked the uniforms, the lifestyle. He longed to be one of the few who could call himself a Marine.

Not having his mother around provided a final push to enlist. Maybe proving his allegiance to his country could help bring her back, he thought. At the very least, his income could help the family.

It was Jim who took it the hardest, his mother says, when she went to Juárez to apply for a green card in 2009 and instead found herself facing a 10-year ban from returning to the United States.

Gloria says that as she set up a new, solo life in Nogales, Sonora, Jim, then 17 years old and a senior in high school — didn't want to eat. For a while he wouldn't even leave his room.

The following year, in 2010, Jim graduated from Pueblo Magnet High School. Not long after that, he headed off to boot camp.

He immersed himself in military culture and began a career in radio maintenance. He took photo after photo of himself in his camouflage uniform, partying with the Marine buddies who became family to him. He posted them proudly to his social-media accounts.

But when it was time to re-enlist this year, he knew he couldn't do it, no matter how much he wanted to. With Bill off to college and their father's health deteriorating, it was his turn to step up.

“I knew I had to come home, like it was going to be a must,” he says. “But at the same time I was, like, ‘Damn, this is not fair, this sucks.'”

“I could've continued two more months, I could've been a sergeant. For a 22-year-old to make it up there that fast...” He pauses. “But I knew this is more important.”

The transition hasn't been easy, but Jim doesn't like to show it.

He rarely talks about his feelings or his struggles. Ask him about it and you're likely to hear, “Whatever.”

About the added responsibilities? He had a lot of responsibilities in the Marines, too.

Jim de la Rosa Jim de la Rosa, the oldest sibling, dons medical gloves to rub anti-fungal cream into his father’s feet. Jim became Arsenio’s primary caregiver when he returned from the Marines in February. "I knew I had to come home, like, it was going to be a must. But at the same time I was like, damn, this is not fair, this sucks...but I knew this is more important. Family comes first."

About his truncated military career? He enrolled at Pima Community College this semester, so he's just moving ahead in a different way.

Still, his bedroom is a shrine to what he has left behind. His walls are plastered with posters of space, of super heroes — and of Marines. Center stage is a group picture of Jim and his fellow Marines in camouflage uniform. His medals pinned to the shiny paper.

Since he got back in February, Jim's routine has changed. He used to get up before 6 a.m. to work out with his Marine buddies and go to work. Now he wakes up in the middle of the night to help Arsenio out of bed and to the bathroom.

The doctor said Arsenio needs to exercise his legs to improve his mobility, so Jim works with him on that.

One morning he counts to 20 as Arsenio flexes his right leg.

“The other one,” he says as he grabs his father's left leg. “Ten more, ten more. Are you tired now?”

“No,” Arsenio mumbles.

“In a little while, we are going to do more,” Jim says loudly. Arsenio doesn't hear so well anymore.

When Jim was little, his dad was his hero.

If he and Bill fussed in the night as babies, Arsenio would get up to hold them and sing to them.

He took them to school and to karate — neither of them liked it, really, but they kept at it to make their dad happy.

He had retired from working as a fumigation pilot so he took care of them while Gloria worked.

Jim would follow his father around, holding the flashlight as Arsenio fixed a car.

He is the type of man who, even after he suffered the stroke, would walk slowly into the Project Yes building and hand-deliver a $20 per month donation to the free program — the only one out of hundreds of parents to do so.

Jim de la Rosa Jim de la Rosa, left, and volunteer Robert Cabigas try to hoist a toppled water barrel back onto its cinder block supports during a water supply run with Humane Borders. "Now that he’s out of the Marines he needs a purpose," Cabigas says.

Now Arsenio mostly watches television or dozes on the couch, occasionally telling one of the kids to put on their shoes or to turn on the light so they don't strain their eyes. Jim, his primary caregiver, spends much of his day on the phone. He has gained weight in the seven months he's been back — he hardly recognizes himself in his boot-camp graduation picture.

He lives most of his life inside his family's small house — but fellow veteran Bob Cabigas, whom Jim used to work with at the greyhound racetrack when he was in high school, is trying to change that.

Cabigas volunteers with Humane Borders, filling water tanks for migrants crossing the desert, and Jim decided to join him.

“I think he's got it together,” Cabigas says. “He just has to take the next step. He's supposed to go on a diet, and when? Mañana.”

“I'm on vacation, Bob. Four years of hard working, come on,” Jim bites back. “In one month, I'll be back to normal.”

Then he'll start thinking about a career in law enforcement, he says.

Out in the desert, replacing old water tanks and making sure the rest have clean water, some would say Jim is helping people who have broken the law. But he's at peace with that.

“I'm patriotic. I love this country and I love the Marines too,” he says. “I picture myself without water, having to walk 80 miles. Come on!”

His mother crossed the desert once, but he doesn't think of that often, not even when he is out there himself.

He describes Gloria as a compassionate person who will lend a hand to anyone who needs one. She's “like a perfect human being,” he says.

But their relationship has grown distant.

“We just don't talk a lot about life stuff,” he says. “I just don't like to talk about stuff like that.”

He is not the same kid who played the violin and was a chess champion, Gloria says. When she tries to hug him, he pulls away.

He doesn't visit often, either. On the weekends he drives the kids and Arsenio to Nogales, Sonora, then he comes back to Tucson alone. He needs a break from it all.

Jim commends his mother for waiting out the 10 years.

“It caused problems — big problems,” he says. “But, I mean, I'm proud of her for wanting to do it the legit way.”

Still, sometimes he resents the fact that he's stuck at home while Bill is away at college.

“You should stay here,” he's told his brother. “Or when you finish school you should get a job here.”

Then he catches himself.

“He's doing all these important things and amazing stuff,” Jim says. “So why should he come here when I can handle this?”

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“I picture us living together again at some point.”


Children in a family where there’s a deportation or a parent is in the country illegally don't fare as well as other kids, research has shown.

In some ways that has proven true for the de la Rosa family. There have been times when they didn't have enough to eat; their dad's Social Security couldn't cover all of their expenses.

Gloria was the breadwinner of the family and the nearly $400 she made weekly disappeared when she moved back to Mexico. Now she earns about $13 a day cleaning a couple's home in Nogales.

What they have had, and what has made all the difference, is a village of support: church groups, family friends, teachers and counselors. And, of course, they have each other: They have grown accustomed to wiping their own tears to be there for one another.

When Gloria moved to Nogales to be with Arsenio at age 22, she liked the idea of an older man she could rely on. She didn't think about what that would mean down the line until years later.

Because her kids have to be so grown up to care for their dad, when they're with her, she wants them to be kids again.

Naomi sometimes goes to bed at 8 p.m. on Friday and doesn't wake up until morning. Gloria thinks it's because she's so tired and in Nogales she can finally relax.

Gloria makes their favorite dishes, mole or enchiladas. She buys flour tortillas for Bill and corn for Arsenio. She does their laundry, clears the table after they eat and washes their dishes.

She bathes her husband and takes him to his favorite barber.

Naomi, usually a whirlwind of housekeeping, spends her time picking friendly fights with Bobby.

"Ma, que me deje en paz!" she complains, begging Gloria to tell Bobby to leave her alone.

"Do you two behave like this over there? Put on your shoes!" Gloria scolds them.

"Don't you have any homework to do?" she asks Bobby. "You must have something to do. Read a book." Anything to keep him away from his sister, who is trying to do her geometry homework.

He finally lies down on the couch next to his mom and she rubs his head and caresses his arm. The minute she stops, he grabs her hand and signals for more.

While they enjoy their time with their mother, they are used to parenting themselves. When Bobby needs written permission to play the clarinet, he turns to Naomi, not to Gloria or Arsenio — even though they are sitting nearby.

Arsenio signs, but Bobby never explains what it was for.

"I'll tell them when I get the instrument," he says in English, the language they mostly use to communicate.

Once they get back to Tucson, the siblings return to their roles as caregivers.

As they wait for Bill's ride to the airport and back to college, Arsenio calls out to his youngest son.

Infographic Births to couples with at least one unauthorized immigrant increased from 1980 through the mid-2000s, but dipped since then, reflecting overall trends for unauthorized immigrants.

“Bobby, the medicine,” he says in a shaky, slow voice. “Bobby, the aspirin.”

“Which aspirin?” Bobby replies.

“Remember the pills you gave him yesterday and he got mad at you because those weren't it,” Bill says.

“Why would I give him the wrong medicine?” Bobby asks, annoyed.

“You did yesterday.”

“Because I don't know which one he takes in the morning and I gave him those and he got all mad,” Bobby explains.

Naomi keeps doing her homework, not even looking up.

Pa, ya me voy,” — Dad, I'm leaving — Bill says as he buttoned his dad's shirt pocket. “Take care of yourself so I can see you in December.”

“Yes,” Arsenio says, his voice quivering.

“Listen to Jimmy so he won't get frustrated, OK?” Bill asks his dad.

“Yes, yes, yes,” Arsenio responds.

“Be very careful when you walk,” Bill says before kissing his father's balding scalp with its fringe of grey-white hair.

He walks over to Naomi and pats her head.

Then Bobby gets up and wraps his arms around Bill's waist.

Jim sleeps through it all.

“I'll let you sleep, Dude,” Bill chuckles and rolls his suitcases out the door.

It will be six years next month that the family has been divided.

Four more to go.

How we got the story

Over the course of four months, reporters Perla Trevizo of the Arizona Daily Star and Fernanda Echavarri of Arizona Public Media spent time with all members of the de la Rosa family in Tucson and Nogales, Sonora. They also talked with school counselors, family friends and others who have helped the siblings along the way, as well as with experts who have studied the issue.

The story was reported as part of a fellowship with the Institute for Justice and Journalism.


Fernanda Echavarri

Perla Trevizo

Mike Christy