She Was 12 When Her Parents Left Her Behind, Fearing Deportation | KUOW News and Information

She Was 12 When Her Parents Left Her Behind, Fearing Deportation

Sep 23, 2015

When Roberta Lirma thinks of her childhood, she pictures her whole family together, outside their light brown apartment building in Auburn.

Her dad would be fixing the car, while her mom sat on the stairs and watched Lirma and her two brothers play.

"We would climb trees or go to the store with our friends," she remembered. "I miss that."

Lirma, 17, misses her younger brother and her parents because they are in Mexico and she is in the United States. Her parents suddenly left when she was 12 years old. 

Lirma was in sixth grade at the time. She started noticing that her parents were acting strange. Her mother was selling all their furniture. Then she found out why.

"They told me they had to leave due to a family emergency," said Lirma. "I just acted normal, like OK – but at least you'll come back? And they would just look at me sad and wouldn't say anything. So I left to my room with my friend and I just broke down."

One week passed, then two, then three.

It's been five years now, and Lirma's parents still haven't returned.

Surviving On Their Own

Lirma's parents came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1997. They crossed the border illegally. Then in 2010, they got a letter ordering them to leave the country or be deported. They thought it was for the best to leave, and they took Lirma's younger brother with them.

Lirma, a U.S. citizen, stayed behind because her parents thought she would have a better future here. She is going by her middle names in order to protect her family's identity.

When her parents left, she was 12 and her older brother was 16. They lived with their godmother for two years. Then their godmother decided to leave them on their own.

Most teenagers are thinking about relationships, looks, and school. Lirma and her brother were thinking about food, rent, and a way to survive.

While most teenagers are thinking about relationships, looks and school, Lirma and her brother were thinking about food, rent, and a way to survive.

Living in an apartment with her brother, Lirma missed the strangest things about her parents, like hearing her mom "yelling at me for coming home late. And having to clean up after my stuff in my room."

She missed her mom cooking her favorite foods.

Lirma's brother was a senior in high school. After school he would work in construction and at night as a janitor. He had no choice but to drop out of school.

Lirma thought she wasn't meant for school either. She hadn't told anyone at school what happened to her parents. She was trying to be someone she really wasn't.

"My life went down," Lirma remembered. "I started making bad decisions. I wasn't really doing good in school. I wasn't really taking care of myself."

Lirma was drinking almost every day, skipping school and going to parties. Her grades went from A's and B's to F's.

"I'm Here For You"

One day, Lirma's brother decided to go into work late so he could drive her to school. When he dropped her off he was crying. "He told me that I was growing up so much. And to not give up, and just keep trying."

That motivated Lirma to try harder in school. She didn't want to see the guy that she saw as a dad cry.  

Pew Research reported on trends in Hispanic immigration in 2012. Below is the number of "unauthorized immigrants" living with minor children who are U.S. citizens. 

 

Credit Pew Research

That same day, she told the story of what happened to her parents to one of her closest friends, Alejandra. The two girls have been friends since sixth grade. In fact, Alejandra had been at the house the day Lirma's parents had confided they were leaving.

When Alejandra heard Lirma's real story, she told her friend, "I'm here for you. Anything you need school-wise or personal-wise, I am here. You can tell me anything."

Alejandra had this message for Lirma: "You lost your parents, but you gained so much. You gained a better relationship with your brother." She laughed. "And you got me as a friend, too, which is even more amazing!" 

Alejandra and Lirma have a connection like sisters. Alejandra graduated high school last spring and now she wants to help Lirma graduate with her class. 

"She has pushed me through my goals," Lirma said. "Even though she's already completed part of her life, she is willing to do it again to help me complete my part of my life."

It  was a struggle for Lirma to adapt to school again.  The two girls started going to the library together, and Lirma is working hard to get A's and B's again.

"She's inspiring," Alejandra said of her friend. "After everything she's been through, and how she's been able to overcome." 

A Dream To Be Together, Again
Roberta sees this birthday gift from her dad as a symbol of her parents. She looks at it whenever she misses them.
Credit Courtesy of Roberta Lirma

Roberta Lirma's dad never gave her birthday presents. Then on her 12th birthday, he gave her a necklace. It was her last birthday before he left for Mexico. Every time she feels sad, she sits down and looks at it.

"It has two stars, and those are a symbol of my parents," explained Lirma. "One is my mom and one is my dad."

Lirma talks to her parents every couple of weeks. She jokes that she wants her mother to send her favorite soup through the mail, because there will never be a soup like that one.

"I really miss them a lot," said Lirma. "I wish they were here."

But Lirma doesn't want her parents to have to hide. She plans to try to bring them back to the U.S. legally.

She hasn't lost the faith that one day her family will be together like they were once, in that light brown apartment building in Auburn.

RadioActive Youth Media is KUOW's program for youth age 16-20ish. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast, and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.