Jesus Carrillo, 14, busily shook the hands of immigration officials Monday as he and two younger brothers and a sister--all of whom were born in Mexico--filled out amnesty papers and took the first step toward becoming U.S. citizens.
But theirs is a different story.
The four children--and two other sisters who were born in the United States--were orphaned in an inexplicable fury of violence last Feb. 12, when their father gunned down their mother, then shot himself inside the family's Anaheim apartment.
It was young Jesus who discovered his parents' bodies in a closet. His father, Jesus B. Carrillo, 43, had been found next to his wife, Bertha Cuevas Carrillo, 30.
Wards of Court
Since then, all six children--Jesus; Esau, 10; Denny, 9; Tommy, 7, and twins, Vivian and Eileen, 6--have been declared wards of the court.
The three Carrillo girls live in Huntington Beach with a foster family. Their brothers, after unsuccessful attempts to place them with foster families, were returned to Orangewood, the county's emergency shelter for neglected, abused and abandoned children.
With four of the children being illegal residents in the United States, there has been considerable uncertainty whether all six would ever live under one roof again. In addition, adoption was thought to be difficult because of the size of the family, let alone the trauma they have suffered over their parents' deaths.
"This is a tough one. Their story is just heart-rending. And these kids are just some of the most beautiful children I've seen," said Harold Ezell, Western regional commissioner for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, who spoke during a news conference in Santa Ana amid the whir and clicking of television and newspaper cameras.
"It's my hope that someone will see these pictures being taken and come forward and provide a home so that all six can be united and live together," he said.
Ernest E. Gustafson, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service district director, added: "These children are seeking a home on a permanent basis, and they are seeking a country on a permanent basis. Today, we are fulfilling one of those desires."
Although the children have an uncle in Mexico and another relative in Los Angeles who applied for custody, they were rejected, said Harold LaFlamme, an attorney handling the Carrillo children's case.
"None of the families panned out, and further attempts for placement (in a foster home) have been tough," LaFlamme said.
He said the children are reunited frequently and recently celebrated one of the girl's birthdays together.
But young Jesus said Monday, "That's not enough."
"I would like to see my sisters more often. That's the bad thing about this."
Gustafson, the INS district director, said the children have extensive school records showing that they have been in the United States since before 1982, the earliest date necessary to qualify for the amnesty program.
Gustafson also cited the efforts of Orange County social services and the Orangewood Foundation on the children's behalf.
"Thank God, someone in Orange County didn't forget them. With the May 4 (1988) deadline for accepting amnesty applications approaching, it could have come and gone, and the window would have closed," Gustafson said.
William G. Steiner, Orangewood Foundation executive director, said it was the work of Kathryn Thompson, who is on the foundation's board of directors and who wrote letters to elected officials and immigration officials on behalf of the Carrillo children.
Thompson said she first wrote to Ezell several months ago but had received a negative response. She then wrote a letter to U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson, who "helped me get this thing started."
"Can you imagine a 13-year-old boy opening a family closet and finding (his) mother and father dead? You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel for these children," Thompson said.
Jesus, Esau, Denny and Tommy received temporary amnesty cards Monday. They will be called for a second interview within 18 months, and could be given permanent alien status within two years. Permanent aliens can apply for U.S. citizenship after five years, Gustafson said.
The four Carrillo children were guided through the amnesty process by Ezell, as other immigrants inside the INS office in Santa Ana quietly stared and a media entourage documented each step.
Orangewood officials have raised more than $15,000 for the children in a trust established to help with educational costs and immigration application fees, Steiner said.