Outed to Mrs. Obama, Illegal Immigrant Family Still Lives in Fear

Officials say focus for arrests, deportations is criminals and employers.

Aug. 6, 2010— -- When a Maryland second-grader told Michelle Obama in May that her mom "doesn't have papers," little did she know the entire world could be watching -- including authorities with the power to send her parents back to Mexico.

"[My mother] says Barack Obama's taking everybody away that doesn't have papers," said the talkative 7-year-old, a U.S. citizen named Daisy. The exchange with the First Lady was quickly picked up on TV and online.

"Well, we have to work on that. We have to fix that," replied Mrs. Obama.

Many observers speculated at the time that the girl's undocumented parents might face imminent consequences, including arrest and deportation. So far, they haven't faced even a federal inquiry, friends say.

"Our investigations are based on solid law enforcement work and not classroom Q&As," said a Department of Homeland Security spokesman at the time.

Still, nearly three months later, friends close to Daisy's parents say the episode continues to keep them awake at night and living in the shadows, afraid that authorities might whisk them off at any time.

"She was horrified and is still very scared," said Gustavo Torres of CASA de Maryland, which has been advising the family.

Daisy's mom, who works as a cleaning lady, and her husband, a construction worker, declined to be interviewed by ABC News or other news outlets since that day.

"They've seen the experience of other families. Could it be today that you take your kids to school and by the afternoon they don't have parents?" Torres said of the anxiety surrounding government raids at immigrant workplaces and in residential communities. "Every day we see kids waiting for their parents after school and they don't show up."

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detained and deported a record number of illegal immigrants last year and is on pace to surpass the figure in 2010, alarming many immigrants and their advocates.

But a breakdown of the statistics reveals a marked shift in the agency's priorities away from enforcement of administrative violations, such as overstaying a visa or crossing the border illegally, to immigrants who commit crimes and employers who take advantage of undocumented workers.

Administrative arrests from workplace raids have plummeted under the Obama administration, from 5184 in 2008 to just 765 so far this year, while arrests of workplace managers are up 50 percent over 2007.

"ICE only has resources to remove approximately 400,000 aliens per year," said ICE director John Morton in a June internal memo to employees. "ICE must prioritize the use of its enforcement personnel, detention space and removal resources to ensure that the removals the agency does conduct promote the agency's highest enforcement priorities, namely national security, public safety, and border security."

Obama Enforcement Priorities Under Fire

Republicans have criticized the priorities and accused the administration of deliberately scheming to impose an "amnesty" by not holding millions of illegal immigrants accountable for breaking the law.

"We have not had interior enforcement," said RepublicanRep. Brian Bilbray of California on "This Week." "You really want to secure the border? Secure the workplace in the U.S. ... The Obama administration is saying...they're doing that now when they bust an employer, [but] they just let loose the illegals on the assumption that the illegals will deport themselves."

But Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who has advocated for a path to legal residency for many illegal immigrants, said Daisy's situation -- a young U.S. citizen with illegal immigrant parents -- illustrates a compelling issue that "won't disappear."

"There are 4 million like her [Daisy]. There are 12 million others [undocumented]. There are families. They have deep roots in our country," Gutierrez said.

While the administration's stated enforcement priorities don't offer much solace to Daisy's parents, Torres said, they are hopeful Congress will pass legislation that would help them stop living in fear.

"She knows one day comprehensive immigration reform is coming," said Torres, adding the couple is learning English and has been paying taxes to prepare for a possible path to legal residency.

Several current proposals would have illegal immigrants earn conditional legal residency by paying a fine, back taxes, and passing background checks, among other things. The proposals have not yet received serious consideration in Congress, however.

In the meantime, the uncertainty is keeping Daisy's parents quietly holed up in their suburban Washington, D.C. community. But family friends say the situation isn't silencing the little Daisy.

"She wants to speak to anybody and everybody," said Torres, "Mrs. Obama, President Obama, anybody who will listen to her about helping her family."

More stories from ABC News' special series "Out of the Shadows: Illegal Immigration in America"