“One year I don’t see my mother. I’m an only child, she doesn’t have anyone else. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to think.” – Josette

Sherin Innis came to the United States in 2003 with her husband, Vernon, and two children. The New York City Department of Education recruited Vernon from Guyana, where he was a professor at a respected university, to become a teacher in a city public school. In return, the DOE promised the family citizenship. But when Vernon died unexpectedly, the family’s chance at U.S. citizenship died with him.

“I have a right to stay in America, to live here, because that was promised to us.” – Sherin Innis

The story of the Innis family is just one of thousands of stories about immigrants in the U.S. who face hurdles in becoming citizens. In 2009, the United States deported 387,790 people. That’s a 5 percent increase over 2008, and more than triple the amount of deportations in 2001.

“I have no idea what I would do back in Ecuador… My only family there is a brother, who I lost contact with years ago.” – Victor Peñafiel

Many of these families have nowhere to return to. Some immigrated to the U.S. in order to find a better life, while others did so to send money home and provide a better life for their families abroad. But one aspect of U.S. immigration policy often overlooked is the affect it has on families.

“I’m confused and I don’t know what to do… I only think of how to help my husband and how to take care of the children, both things at the same time.” – Nube Shirley Pullola

The Distant Relatives project is an attempt to look at the consequences of that policy. Each story is a unique spin on a similar theme: families separated by immigration.

“I want to give them the best that I can, I want to give them the things that I didn’t have.” – Luis Toapanta

While all of the stories contained on this website involve people from different backgrounds, the central theme remains the same:

“I actually was looking for my American dream.” – Ana


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