All names have been changed to ensure anonymity.

Santiago is a husband, father to two accomplished and athletic girls, and in danger of being deported to Ecuador, after living in America for the last 17 years.

Santiago also happens to be a family friend who recently told me that he's been fighting in court for the last 10 years to finally gain his citizenship.

"They say that we come over here and take the jobs away from other people...we don't take anything," he tells me in his living room, which is festooned with family photographs. "I've been in this country 17 years, but I will never have social security."

 "I will get old, but I'll never be able to collect a pension because I'm not working for any company. I've been paying my taxes, but I'm not in the books."

In 1999, Santiago decided to leave Macas, Ecuador and embark on a dangerous journey to the United States. His father had just died, so 17-year-old Santiago thought he could find a well-paying job in America and send money back to his mom and siblings.

It took almost a year for Santiago to enter the United States through a border in Texas.

"A friend of mine [in the states] lent me some money to do the trip," Santiago said. "So I left Ecuador with a visa to Costa Rica. The plan was to cross the border into Nicaragua and then Mexico, but I got caught in Nicaragua."

photo: Rae Paoletta/Revelist

Santiago spent a month in jail for illegally crossing the border, and had to completely restart his journey. He eventually trekked to the Eastern seaboard where he got a driver's license in Virginia and temporarily settled in Connecticut. There, he learned English while working as a Dunkin Donuts cashier.

Since then, he's moved to Long Island, married an American woman of Puerto Rican descent, raised two kids, and started his own carpentry business. He's done it all without American citizenship.

Santiago's been working "on and off" with a lawyer for the last seven years to build a case for his citizenship. However, he said the attorney "never did anything concrete." 

"They fooled me around," Santiago said. "Nothing happened."

A couple of months ago, Santiago hired a new lawyer to restart his quest for citizenship — but he fears the worst.

"If I'm lucky, I'll get the visa," Santiago said. "If not, I'll probably be deported. If they decide to give me a deportation order, they can easily come to my house and take me. They have all my information."

For Santiago, deportation would undo the life he's built for himself here — and devastate his daughters and wife.

"For people like me, I call this home," he said. "This is home for me. I made this home. I got my kids, me and my wife got the house, I work here, I was able to start my business here, so I want to be able to feel secure that i'm going to stay here — and maybe retire here and die here."

"Until something changes, I have an uncertain future."

photo: Rae Paoletta/Revelist

Thousands of other families are also living in the purgatory between citizenship and the shadows of deportation.

Even for a person like Santiago — who's married to an American citizen and has two American-born children — the looming possibility of deportation is still, as he calls it, "a burden [he] carries with him every day."

His fears are far from unfounded. In 2015 alone, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement completed more than 72,000 deportations of parents with American-born citizens. 

The Supreme Court also shut down Santiago's hope for change in June. The justices split 4-4 on the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (or DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs that would have allowed millions of unauthorized immigrants to work in the United States without fear of deportation.

Roughly 11 million undocumented people, reality is terrifying unknowing of if or when they'll be taken away from everyone they love.

However, as I look around Santiago's living room, with its lime green walls, decorated with trinkets from family vacations, it's abundantly clear this is his sanctuary.

This is his home.

photo: Rae Paoletta/Revelist

I sit down with his two daughters, their dog, and a plush frog.

His eldest daughter Maria tells me she understands a fair amount of her dad's ordeal — and it scares her.

"My mom told me and dad told me two years ago," the 9-year-old said. "My mom said that since he doesn't have the visa, he can't go a lot of places with us. Only like, Florida, 'cause you don't need the passport for it. 
We could drive to Florida, but mom also said that since he’s from Ecuador and not really like, from here, you gotta go to the bank and do a lot of work to try and get the visa. And some people turn you down, like a lot of times that you try. And then you have to try and try again. So then, he can't really go anywhere with us."
But Maria also understands her dad's predicament is about more than vacations. There is a quiet but constant fear she carries; the fear that one day, her dad won't just be "working late" — he'll be gone.

"He’s the most awesomest dad in the world and I don’t know what I’d do without him," she said.

"Whenever I need something, like let’s say for example, Taekwondo, he's always there to support me. When I have a big testing for first-degree black belt, he's there with me."

"He's basically always there with me."

photo: Rae Paoletta/Revelist

The baby of the family tells me her dad is her hero in more ways than one.

"He really loves us," the 5-year-old said as she clutched a stuffed frog. "He really takes care of us. Whenever I need a snack and I can’t reach it, he's always there for me so, he gets it."

Though she doesn't know as much about her dad's legal order as her older sister, Camila knows there's a chance he might not come home one day.

"I couldn't do things without him," she said. "I love him so much. I wouldn't know what to do if I didn’t have a dad. I would be afraid."

Maria has similar fears.

"Sometimes I think, will I see him?," she said. "Will he still be alive when I’m 21? How about 31…41?"

"I'm always afraid when he's not here. Like, when we get back from [my sister's] jiu jitsu, 'cause he works long hours at his job, I'm like, "Where's daddy? Is he OK?"

"Is he OK, mom? Mom, call him."

photo: Rae Paoletta/Revelist

Unfortunately, the girls' fears are all-too-common for the children of undocumented immigrations. Not only does the fear of suddenly losing a parent increase a child's everyday anxieties, but these anxieties can also lead to long-term emotional distress and even psychological trauma, according to a study from The Migration Policy Institute.

The girls' mother, Nina, is a natural-born American citizen. She said she's horrified by the hoops her husband has to jump through to have a chance at staying in the country legally.

"I think it's pretty pathetic that I should have to prove extreme hardship to keep my husband in the country," Santiago's wife, Nina, tells me. "Aren't our family values, and the separation of a family, enough?"

Unfortunately, the decent notion that families deserve to stay together isn't a factor in whether or not a person's visa will be granted. In addition to collecting letters from trusted friends and colleagues, getting a note from a therapist is something many spouses of immigrants have to obtain in order to advance their significant other's request for a visa. 

The University of California, San Francisco also reports that the "United States Citizenship and Immigration Services regulations require applicants to prove that a denial of their provisional waiver would result in 'extreme hardship' to a United States citizen spouse or parent."

For this reason, Santiago's lawyers have advised the family to see a psychiatrist to "prove" how his absence would affect them emotionally.

"Why do I have to prove financial hardship, emotional hardship, why should I have to go a psychiatrist to prove the emotional turmoil I'd be in if my husband would not be allowed to live in the country?

It's really sad when my daughters say to me, 'How come you don't join the PTA, or set up play dates,' and I say, 'We're a little different. the fact that your dad doesn't have legal status rubs a lot of people the wrong way.

It's better we just remain on the sidelines for a little while and not get too close to anyone."

While laws and attitudes have pushed Santiago's daughters to the sidelines for now, they've continued to thrive.

"I always think, 'Why don't you get into my dad's shoes, and try to feel like that?" Maria said. "I want people to know that my dad is really fun and supportive. He'd do anything for us."