After a Detroit man was deported to Albania in 2006, his family fought to bring him back. As part of their court battle, they showed U.S. immigration officials that his wife and young son left in Detroit were experiencing extreme hardship, including stress-related medical issues. In a story for the Detroit News, Serena Daniels detailed the Vaso family’s legal fight and the emotional reunion.
As deportations rise and more families are separated, some are trying to appeal to courts. “The government expects that there will be some level of hardship (because of a separation), but what we try to determine is whether there will be extreme or unusual hardship,” said psychologist Raymond Kamoo, founder of Immigration Psychology Associates in suburban Detroit.
Serena’s Story Behind the Story
My coverage looked at the emotional trauma and stresses on immigrant youth living in Southeast Michigan, among the hardest hit post-industrial centers being redefined by an influx of immigration. My previous stories looked at the activist movement of Dreamers and of the controversy surrounding the Michigan Secretary of State who after the Deferred Action for Early Arrivals policy was enacted initially moved to not allow DACA recipients driver’s licenses, making Michigan one of one a few states to deny state-issued IDs and licenses to this group. My reporting helped to the Secretary of State to back track on her directive.
I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism, with a minor at California State University, Northridge, where even early on as a student reporter, I often wrote about the activism of undocumented students. What I wanted to do with this project was dig into how do immigrant families tend to their emotional needs when dealing with various dilemmas, including separation and the trauma of war.
The IJJ training helped me to think in a more personal way about the day-to-day experiences of immigrant families, not just looking at the headline grabbing protests surrounding immigration reform. One of the obstacles I faced was locating the families that I would profile. To find my sources, I drew from my experiences covering the immigrant rights movement in Detroit, who in turn helped me connect with a number of social service organizations in the region. First, I spoke with a woman whose Albanian husband had been deported after his visa expired and learned about the legal battle they waged to help him return to the U.S. to be reunited with his American-born son. I learned how they had to document their emotional trauma to illustrate for the immigration courts their dilemma.
I also spoke with social workers who helped me reach an Iraqi refugee family that is seeking out mental health services to help deal with post traumatic stress. I learned how the family’s teenage son is coping with PTSD in silence, while his younger sister suffers from nightmares and a speech impediment.
The biggest thing I was able to bring to my IJJ stories because of the training was to get a firm grip on the data that would help me identify just who is coming to Michigan. Metro Detroit is home to immigrants from Eastern Europe, South Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. More than 40 languages are spoken at some of the school districts. I wanted to make sure I had a strong understanding of the region’s migration patterns so I would know to whom I should be reaching out.
The workshops led by journalists Dianne Solis and Martha Mendoza, which touched on data from the Department of Homeland Security, were extremely helpful. Also important was the legal workshop led by attorney Daniel Kowolski, who provided us with a breakdown of all of the different categories of visas that one can obtain. This was helpful in particular in speaking with the Albanian American family’s attorney, who helped the father re-enter the U.S. after seven years of separation.