The Daily Grind Video


Leonel Ruiz, a landscaper in Brentwood, N.Y., was waiting at Kennedy International Airport on the early morning of March 11 for his 4-year-old daughter, Emily, to arrive home from a trip to Guatemala. The plane arrived hours late, but Emily was not on it, and neither was her grandfather, who was supposed to be escorting her back.

It took several hours for Mr. Ruiz to learn what had happened. Emily, a United States citizen, and her grandfather, a Guatemalan traveling with a valid work visa, had been detained by immigration authorities at Dulles International Airport near Washington, where the plane had been diverted because of bad weather.

The officials had told Emily’s grandfather that because of an immigration infraction two decades ago, he would not be allowed to stay in the country.


That has left Emily, a pigtailed native of Long Island, in an unusual limbo. As a citizen, she has the right to re-enter her country. But her parents are illegal immigrants, which has complicated the prospect of a reunion.

Today, Emily is in Guatemala, her parents are struggling to bring her home, and lawyers and federal officials are arguing over parental responsibility and citizenship rights. The Ruizes find themselves on the front lines of a heated immigration debate: how to treat families in which the parents are here illegally, while their children, born in the United States, are citizens.