MIAMI – Ronald Soza celebrated his 10th birthday Wednesday with cake and a serenade by more than 100 other children and their parents.
His own family: absent. His mother was recently deported back to Nicaragua. His father rarely ventures out in public in fear of a similar fate. Now Soza and the other children — all U.S. citizens whose parents could be or have been deported — are demanding a say in the immigration debate.
They are suing President Obama, asking a court to halt the deportations of their parents until Congress overhauls U.S. immigration laws.
The children, who gathered Wednesday at the Miami nonprofit American Fraternity to draw attention to their cause, say their constitutional rights are being violated because they will likely have to leave the country if their parents are forced to go.
Some children said their families didn't have enough money to pay for school supplies because the breadwinning parent had been deported, and some are at risk of losing their homes. They also say they are suffering psychological and physical hardship.
"My grades went from A's to C's when my mom had to leave," said Ronald.
Nora Sandigo, the head of the Fraternity, originally brought the case on behalf of the children against the Bush administration. She refiled it in January in Miami and a hearing is scheduled for August.
Sandigo said she is frustrated that the Obama administration hasn't done more to address immigration reform.
"Today these children's voices are not heard," she said as dozens of youngsters squirmed and twirled their flags on a rug before her, "but tomorrow these U.S. citizens will be voting."
Perhaps not literally, but many of the more than 100 children who gathered Wednesday are already in their teens and will be voting age by the next presidential election.
Sandigo says many of the children's parents came to the U.S. before 1996 immigration changes made it more difficult for them to become legal residents. When they came, they had a valid expectation that if they stayed out of trouble for seven years, they could eventually become legal residents, she has argued.
Immigration experts say the case has a tough road in the courts because Congress explicitly made the law retroactive.
But the lawsuit may help get attention for the issue in the political arena, said immigration Scholar Louis DeSipio of the University of California, Irvine.
"It's a very conscious decision of the immigrant advocates to focus on this issue," he added, "to disabuse Americans of the images we have of men in their twenties and thirties running across the border, showing instead that it's a family affair."