Children Left Behind In Immigration Raids

Nine-year-old Adeline Munoz packs for her weekly trip to Tijuana, Mexico.

It's the only place she can see her parents. In February, her parents Abel Munoz and Zulma Miranda, who were living in the United States for 18 years on expired Visas, were deported by immigration officials.

"My dad got handcuffed," Adeline said. "I was so scared, I don't want to sleep. The next day that I went to school I didn't want to go because I feel sad."

While they still have an aunt here, the responsibility to keep the household together has fallen on 16-year-old Leslie.

"It's hard," she said. "And you're trying your best to be a replacement but … but I can't. As hard as I try I can't."

All three of the Munoz children were born in the U.S. so they are legal citizens, even though their parents are not. Since the parents have been gone, all three kids sleep in their room.

"So when I have this picture I put it under my pillow, I feel like they're here," Adeline said.

Without them here though, nothing has been the same.

"When my parents are not here I don't want to celebrate my birthday because I feel sad that my parents are not here," Adeline said.

It's unclear how many children have been left behind in the United States to fend for themselves since Operation Return to Sender. Twenty-three thousand people have been arrested for Visa violations, sparking protests across the country.

In the last year more than 200,000 people have been deported — up 20 percent over the previous year, and sparking protests.

For those deported to Mexico, this is what divides families, the United States-Mexico border. The children on one side the parents on the other, both facing an uncertain future..

The Munoz family reunions are bittersweet.

The parents say they just couldn't bring the children to the slums of Tijuana with no jobs, no home and only a room at Zulma's parents.

"I would describe the deportation experience as something inhumane. And the method in which they removed us will never be forgotten by our children.," Zulma said. "The little one always tells me, 'every time I hear a knock at the door I think it's immigration. It makes me scared.'"

Critics of illegal immigration concede it's a tough situation but one the parent's themselves created.

"If a U.S. citizen parent commits a crime and is arrested, not one is out there protesting that this person shouldn't be separated from his kid to go to jail," said Rosemary Jenks of NumbersUSA, an anti-immigration group.

Jenks says part of the problem was past lax enforcement:

"Once we routinely enforce the law, we will face this situation much less because there will be fewer people coming in and putting themselves in this position," Jenks said.

But for those already here, it can prove a heart-wrenching decision.