Across the border in Tijuana, their parents lie awake in their small third-story apartment, feeling anxious and helpless.
The family has been divided by the U.S.-Mexican border since Feb. 22, when immigration agents arrested and deported Abel Muñoz and Zulma Miranda. The couple decided to leave behind their three U.S.-born children after a relative agreed to watch over them.
"Being separated is very difficult, but why am I going to deprive them of their right to live there?" Miranda said in Spanish, sitting in the Tijuana apartment where she is living with her husband and her parents. "There is no future here. It's a very rough life here. I don't want that for my kids."
Leslie understands her parents' decision but said it's hard having to be a grown-up. Although their aunt lives with them, Leslie said most of the family's responsibilities fall to her. She makes sure Marcos and Adilene get to and from school, that they get dressed and fed, and that they do their homework.
"It's like I am a parent now," she said. "I have two children I am in charge of. They are dependent on me."
After years of lax enforcement, U.S. immigration authorities have stepped up arrests and deportations across the nation in recent months, forcing an increasing number of adults who are here illegally to make drastic and difficult decisions: take their U.S.-born children with them or leave them behind. About 3 million children who are U.S. citizens by birth have at least one illegal immigrant parent.
When immigration agents encounter U.S.-born children, they usually leave them in the temporary custody of a relative or a friend. Occasionally, agents agree to postpone the parents' deportation if no one can be found. In extraordinary circumstances, immigration agents will contact local child protective services.
Parents don't get special rights just because their children were born here, said Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If a judge has ordered them to leave the country, they have to leave.
"The fact that they have U.S.-citizen kids does not exempt them from complying with the court order," Kice said. "We are going to do everything we can to ensure that the court order is followed."
Immigrant-rights activists condemn the division of families.
"With these raids, they aren't just getting criminals. They are breaking up innocent families," said Oswaldo Cabrera, who has started a symbolic campaign called "Adopt an Immigrant" to pair illegal immigrants with U.S. citizens. "This is a great injustice."
NEARLY two decades ago, Abel Muñoz, 41, and Zulma Miranda, 37, crossed the border with temporary permits to seek treatment for their infant son. He had been diagnosed with leukemia and died soon after their arrival.
By then, Miranda was pregnant again and the couple decided to stay in the United States. Leslie was born in 1990, followed by Marcos three years later and Adilene in 1998.
Muñoz supported the family by working as a landscaper and butcher and then as an electrician, eventually earning up to $1,000 a week, he said. Miranda stayed home with the children, and both parents volunteered in their schools. The family bought a home and remodeled it. They paid taxes. They took trips to Universal Studios and Las Vegas. They became involved in their church.
But the parents still were illegal immigrants. And every day, they feared being arrested and deported. So when they met an attorney who told them he could get them green cards, they decided to turn themselves in to immigration officials.
The couple said the attorney assured them they would win the case because they had lived in the country for more than a decade and had never been in trouble with the law. What the attorney didn't tell them, they said, was that they would have to prove that their deportation would cause "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" on their children.
"He never said it would be a risk," Miranda said.
The couple submitted their applications to immigration officials and soon after received a letter ordering them to court.