Between Two Worlds

Jennifer Xiloj, 10, left, was born in Chattanooga, but was yanked out of the only life she knew when her mother took her to Guatemala.
Jennifer Xiloj, 10, left, was born in Chattanooga, but was yanked out of the only life she knew when her mother returned to her village in Guatemala. Photo: Carlos Ventura for the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

What happens when your life is torn between two worlds?

You live in a place you love, where your children were born and are thriving, where hope endures. Now imagine that you’re forced to leave, ejected, called a criminal. You go while your family stays, or worse, your children must go with you, torn from the only home they’ve ever known. You’re sent to a place where $5 a day is the average wage, where schools are worn down and shabby, where health care, if you can get it, is crude.

Such is the reality for Guatemalans who live illegally in the Chattanooga area and across the United States. They never got permission to be here in the first place and there are many who believe that they, and their children, are only getting what they deserve, to be sent home, to stop being a drain on American society. But once they’re caught and sent back to the life they thought they’d escaped, they vanish from public consciousness, lost in a flood of immigration statistics. What happens to the deported, whose dreams of a better life are shattered for them and their families?

I spent three weeks traveling through Guatemala’s western states, following the stories of immigrants who once called the Scenic City their home. The trip was funded by an International Reporting Fellowship awarded by the International Center for Journalists. It was sponsored by the Ford Foundation and The Brooks and Joan Fortune Family Foundation. The series won the David Ignatius Award for International Reporting.

Three stories from the six-day series:

Born in the U.S. and struggling in Guatemala
Children of illegal immigrants left behind
America or Mom? Boy had to choose

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