By: Naomi Perez / New Mexico Dream Team

I was just eight years old when I learned the harsh reality of immigration in the United States. My grandfather passed away in March of 2009. For some time prior to that, he had been living in Madera, Chihuahua, the Mexican city where my mom and her sisters grew up.

That night, my whole life changed.

My mother and I set out on a long journey that included crossing borders I had no idea even existed. As an eight-year-old, I didn’t fully understand what that meant. It was until a few days later when my mom told me she could not return to Albuquerque.

Albuquerque was my home, my family lived there and so did my friends.

How do you tell an eight-year-old girl who spent every day of her life playing with her cousins, singing with her aunts, or even cooking with her grandmother, that she may never get to see them again?

How do you tell an eight-year-old that if she wants to return to her home, she must leave her mother behind? Or that the government of the country she was born in did not want people like her mom?

My mother had committed an immigration offense and she would not be able to ask the government for forgiveness until her 10-year sentence was carried out. The process of getting a visa was long and expensive.

Year after year, my mom tried again. Until one day, we had to make the hard choice of leaving her behind and returning to Albuquerque. It was a tough choice, but we knew the opportunities I would get in the U.S. were greater than those offered in Mexico, a country ran by corruption leading to forced poverty.

It has now been 7 years since I came to the United States and left my mom behind. Sadly, I am not the only child whose life has been completely changed due to immigration issues.

In 2016, in the United States, approximately 18 million children under age 18 lived with at least one immigrant parent. They accounted for 26 percent of the 70 million children in the U.S. For many of these children, a daily fear is that once they return home, their family may not be there.

Since late 2016, doctors have reported that they have seen more children exhibiting stress and anxiety related behavioral changes, including symptoms of “toxic-stress,” due to fear that a family member will be deported.

With numbers in deportations rising each day, the anxiety and fear also rise within these kids.  The government needs to do more for these kids.

Family separation is not only occurring at the border, but it is also occurring in our cities and our communities.

Harsher immigration policies will not only affect people who are here undocumented, but also their children. Many adults come to the U.S. in hopes of giving their children a better life, we need to focus on making sure they do.

Every day, we must join the fight and end family separations, whether they are occurring at the border, or in our own homes.

Families belong together.

Naomi Perez is a Communications Fellow with the New Mexico Dream Team.