Risking everything for a better life | Bakersfield.com

Risking everything for a better life

Parents seek secure future for disabled children

BY LOUIS MEDINA, Californian staff writer
e-mail: lmedina@bakersfield.com | Tuesday, May 22 2007

Although she is a plain-spoken, modest woman, Indira Gomez is an expert on Down syndrome. Of the three daughters born to Mrs. Gomez with her husband, Miguel two — Karen, 12; and Katy, 8 — have the genetic disability.

Indira Gomez.jpg“I don’t have any difficulties with them as far as eating, dressing, changing clothes and bathing is concerned,” their mother said in Spanish.

But, she said, “They can’t write an entire letter on their own or hold a coherent conversation or express themselves well. If they go to the store, they’re not sure how much they have to pay or how to count the change they get back.”

She described recently how Karen spent the first year and a half of her life in the hospital in Mexico, where she and her older sister Gloria, 14, were born.

“Down syndrome brings with it heart complications,” she said. “It affects sufferers a lot because they’re more prone to get pneumonia, bronchitis, cataracts. They suffer from nearsightedness and often use glasses from the time they’re very young. Their noses are small so they may have trouble breathing.”

Both Karen and Katy use glasses, she said.

The family is trilingual: They communicate in Spanish, English and American Sign Language.

Because Down syndrome sufferers often have protruding tongues that lack mobility, “you sometimes cannot understand 100 percent of what they’re saying,” Mrs. Gomez said.

The girls learn ASL at school and Mom, who is a homemaker, learns it at home using their textbooks and other visual aids. She often interprets for her husband, who does not have as much time to learn it because he is busy running his own welding business.

A father’s love

All three of the Gomez girls love their father, but Katy is his buddy.

She often goes with him to watch the pro wrestling matches at the Bakersfield Dome or to play soccer with him and his team in the park.

She is the only one in the family who was born in the United States and is therefore a citizen and eligible for Supplemental Security Income through the Social Security Administration.

The Gomezes and their two older daughters came here illegally about 11 years ago in a desperate attempt to find better medical care for Karen while she was still an infant, after Mexican doctors told them she was sure to die.

Mrs. Gomez said she and her husband have always paid their taxes and have never been in trouble with the law. They pay out of pocket for most of the children’s medical care, because, with the exception of Katy, they are ineligible for special aid programs reserved for U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

In an effort to legalize his family’s situation and ensure a future as independent adults in America for Katy and Karen, Gomez is scheduled to go before an immigration judge within the next few days and plead for what is called a “cancellation of removal.”

According to Sharon Rummery, northwest regional communications manager with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, cancellation of removal is an option for undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation and legalize their status if they:

* Have lived in the United States for at least 10 years;

* Have an immediate family member who has legal status in the United States (for the Gomezes, that would be Katy);

* Have a clean police record;

* Can prove their family member would suffer severe hardship if they were deported.

But, Rummery said, “It’s up to the judge to decide if they can be awarded cancellation of removal.”

It is not a guarantee that the Gomezes will be allowed to stay.

Gomez knows this but he wants to do the right thing — all for the sake of his daughters. He began the process himself, willingly, knowing the risks. Mrs. Gomez also will have to go before an immigration judge.

Vivian Arreola, a family resource specialist with H.E.A.R.T.S. Connection of Kern County and the organizer of the Celebración de Familias Excepcionales conference for parents of special-needs children, has known the Gomezes for a decade.

She said Kern Regional Center, the main sponsor of the conference, put Gomez in contact with an experienced immigration lawyer who has helped other families obtain cancellation of removal status and begin their path to legal residency and possibly citizenship.

Giving back/getting back

Arreola said the Gomezes are a great help to her and a source of inspiration to others.

Mrs. Gomez makes phone calls and sends out fliers inviting Spanish-speaking mothers of disabled children to attend the support groups Arreola leads.

“There are people who come to my groups because they bring them,” she said of the Gomezes.

Gomez’s welding business is among the $1,000-or-more sponsors of the Celebración conference. His gift has gone toward putting together the goodie bags all conference attendees will receive, Arreola said.

So come Saturday, the Gomezes will receive inspiration at a first-of-its-kind local event they themselves are helping to realize.

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