As others are deported, a Dreamer wrestles with fear and uncertainty

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Laura Mendoza - JON BROWN
  • Jon Brown
  • Laura Mendoza

In April, President Donald Trump pledged not to deport undocumented immigrants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status—aka "Dreamers"—telling the more than 875,000 people brought to the U.S. illegally as children that they should "rest easy."

Despite these assurances, a 23-year-old man filed a lawsuit alleging he was deported from California to Mexico on February 18 despite having active protection under the DACA program. And on May 8, a woman in Atlanta had her DACA status removed by immigration officials due to legal technicalities.

Laura Mendoza, 28, is an immigration organizer with the Resurrection Project in Chicago. She has DACA status and works in Pilsen and Back of the Yards to help other undocumented residents learn more about the resources and rights available to them.

Here Mendoza describes the fear and uncertainty she's facing under the Trump administration, and why her organizing work is so important to her.

I go into Pilsen and Back of the Yards to reach out to community members, helping them get knowledge. Aside from the education part of it, we are really making sure that we're protecting one another in these very uncertain times. I'm not just defending myself and my parents, who are undocumented, but our larger community in Chicago. We're going to be stronger together.

I have heard of DACA recipients who are renewing anxiously waiting for a response in their case—especially people who might have minor offenses on their records. I've also had conversations with people who are requesting DACA for the first time, and we have to talk about whether or not the benefits of this program outweigh the risks.

I feel outrage at the level of scrutiny DACA recipients are undergoing, confusion over how decisions are being made by immigration officials, and, although I hate to admit it, fear. Fear that I could find myself in a similar situation due to an arbitrary decision. It angers me that DACA recipients are held to this standard of perfection and anything less than that is unacceptable and therefore justifies deportation.

Like, about a month ago, [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] was in Back of the Yards. We have offices in Back of the Yards, and we had a meeting scheduled with someone there. But we had gotten word that Immigration was there. So now it becomes a question of putting myself at risk. I actually had to miss that meeting because I didn't know if Immigration was going to be checking people's IDs or if they were looking for someone in particular. And that was the first time in my life really that I felt like, "Wow, there is an effort to try to get people who are undocumented or with DACA status out of here." I've been in the U.S. for 21 years. This was the first time that I really felt like I'm under attack.

I was going to stop traveling within the U.S., which was something I recently started to do. I had plans to request advance parole so that I could go back to Mexico to visit my grandmother and family members whom I have not seen since I was seven years old. I recently decided to continue to travel within the U.S., but now I'm really aware of places I could not visit, like Texas. They just passed legislation that penalizes their police for not cooperating with immigration officials. I wouldn't want to be in that environment.

I was also starting to get settled and think long-term about my life in Chicago, but now in the back of my mind I think about the "What if?" What if I get deported? What if my parents get deported? I've really started to cut back in my spending to increase my savings. But I do still treat myself to coffee pretty much every day, because I still want to enjoy my life.

For me it comes back to that uncertainty, the not knowing. That's part of why we do emergency planning at our Know Your Rights workshops. Because there is this uncertainty of not knowing what's going to happen.

It's kind of a David versus Goliath. . . . There is a sense I'm seeing that, "If they want to deport me, they're just going to deport me." Like I actually have no rights. I mean, we have a lot of people that are actually self-deporting or saying that if they ever find themselves in this situation, they're just going to choose to go back. They're not even going to attempt to put up a fight. Because this is a fear that has been very well constructed over the past months. Of an all-powerful, mighty president who can just do whatever he wants.

A lot of people who support Trump and his policies, they say he's not attacking people, or a group of people. But that's what his policies do, right? They're implemented to try to achieve some goal. For Trump that goal is ending immigration. Not just undocumented immigration—you see it with legal immigration too. These are lives that are being put at stake. These are people that have contributed here for many years to this country.

Republicans, a lot of the time, like to use the phrase, "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps." And it's like, that's essentially the spirit of immigrants. Yes, there are some programs that they might qualify for their children who are U.S. citizens, but at the end of the day it's like, they have nothing. These are literally people who are pulling themselves up from their bootstraps. This is what you're trying to attack.

This interview was conducted as part of the storytelling project 90 Days, 90 Voices.


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