Immigration Stories

Immigrants and refugees come to the United States for many reasons: seeking opportunities not available in their countries of origin; fleeing violence, war, or persecution because of who they are; natural or human-made disasters; environmental devastation as a result of climate change; and too many more reasons to count. Unfortunately, many of our immigrant & refugee community members face insurmountable barriers to achieving permanent residency and citizenship in the United States because of this country's restrictive immigration laws. Unite Oregon believes that Congress must pass a comprehensive immigration law giving legal status and a pathway to citizenship for every immigrant in this country.

Below, you will find several stories directly from community members, outlining why we need a comprehensive change to immigration laws at the federal level. Our communities deserve better than an exclusive, fragmented system.

Maria's story

Maria is an activist and community leader. She serves as a Community Organizer for Unite Oregon.

I arrived in the United States in 1992, the first generation of my family to immigrate to this country. I came for the same reason so many other immigrants do: to the realize my dreams in this land of opportunity. But many other with those same dreams have seen them cut short, and will continue to do so without action on comprehensive immigration reform in Congress.

My two children were both born in the United States, and I have been a single mother providing for my family in Oregon for the last 15 years. It hasn't always been easy: in 2007, I was one of over 150 people caught up in a raid at a food processing company, which was a deeply discriminatory, oppressive, and inhumane experience. The majority of people detained were sent to Tacoma for processing, with a small number of us remaining in Portland. The majority of the women detained in that raid were ultimately deported despite their children being US citizens, tearing apart dozens of families and communities.

Living through the raid and its aftermath was traumatic for me and my children. For months, we did not know if I would be deported back to Mexico to face the uncertain and violent situation there. I was afraid for what might happen to my family. My children were afraid because they did not know if they would be forced to live in a country where they knew nobody and did not know the culture, and for those months we lived in constant fear. In the end, I was relatively fortunate: I was able to have my deportation order nullified, and eventually received my work permit and green card; I am now working toward obtaining full US citizenship. Unfortunately, the stress has taken its toll on my mental and physical health, and I now struggle with several chronic health conditions as a result.

Since the raid, I have advocated for my own rights and those of my community. I am a leader and activist in the Latinx community, and for the last 6 years, have worked full-time to fight for justice for immigrants & refugees. I am grateful every day that I get to empower others, but many other immigrants are not as lucky as I was. We know that there are thousands of other stories of immigrants and refugees who are working hard and struggling to survive in this country, raising families and contributing to their communities.

We need Congress to take action in support of comprehensive immigration reform. We must stop deporting people back to places where they'll face violence. We need to eliminate the backlog of cases in our immigration system. And we need to create a consistent path to permanent residency and citizenship. We need real action, not simply more campaign promises.

Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation which give a path to citizenship for up to 6 million people who currently lack a stable immigration status, but the Senate has failed to act on it. Our community can't wait, and with Democrats in control of Congress and the White House, we may not have another opportunity like this one for years. The Senate needs to take advantage of every tool in its toolbox to pass immigration reform legislation.


Estela's story

My name is Estela and I'm from El Salvador. I had to leave my country, alone, 14 years ago. I left my two children with my mother because their father was subjecting me to domestic violence. I spent 6 weeks journeying to the United States, asking God not to bring me back because of the frustrating things I saw along the way. I did not want to return to my country, and I was so afraid that the worst would happen to me if they returned me to El Salvador.

After being in the United States for a time, I sent for my daughter after she turned 18 years old because of the gangs, called "maras." She was studying nursing in El Salvador but when the children are a certain age, they take them, and they took my daughter our for gang fights. My best option was to bring her because she could be killed if she refused to do what they said. The gangs had already asked for money, and if they weren't given the amount they asked for, they threatened to do something to my family. I didn't know at the time that my mother was in their custody, and when she asked me for money she wouldn't tell me what it was for so that I wouldn't worry. My daughter was the one who told me what was happening, because I asked why my mother was asking for so much money, and I wasn't sure what would happen if I stopped sending it. That's why I sent for my daughter to cross the border despite the risk, even though it brought me despair and fear that something would happen to her in El Salvador, because there were already so many threats against my family.

My daughter has been here in the United States for 6 years after receiving political asylum, which she was fortunate to be able to arrange. But I just brought my son who is 14 for the same reason as my daughter, they wanted to put him in the gangs and if he did not do what they told him, they would take him out of the house. I was afraid they would do something to him or kill me for ignoring them. So I brought him over to keep him safe.

Before, I had plans to return to my country and set up a small store. But my mother tells me that the gangs charge them extortion money, and I have to stop thinking about that dream. I could barely afford to bring my son because of the expense, I only had $1,000 to my name, and thankfully my brother had arrived here before me, and he helped send a little money back to El Salvador, but it was still very difficult to bring him. My son had to leave for the US suddenly without telling me, because my mother was afraid he would be taken by the gangs or turn up dead.

He crossed three borders: into Guatemala, Mexico, and finally the United States. It took him a month to arrive here, and he was detained for about 2 weeks by immigration when he arrived because he was an unaccompanied minor. I did not know if I could pick him up because I didn't have the documents, but I was able to get him out of detention.

I have not yet applied for political asylum because of lack of money, since we have so many expenses and I was laid off from work for a time. I've had to look after my kids but haven't been able to look after myself. It has been more important for me to get them out of our country. This is the same situation many families in El Salvador are facing and it's traumatizing for the children, and very stressful for the parents. I hope that I will be able to request asylum some day.

I think that the US government should support those of us who have been here for a long time. For example, by giving out work permits so that we can get jobs without fear, and the freedom to travel. I ask Congress to lend us your hand and help us, give us a chance, help us fix this broken system. I can't imagine going back to our town, we can't, because the gangs will ask us for money and will kill us if we don't give it to them. My youngest son was born in this country, he is 11 years old and my only hope to fix my documents.

I ask Congress again to help us by giving work permits to as many people as they can. I think about my plans to open a small business, but without insurance I can't do it. I have dreams and plans, but can't achieve them without legal status.

I am a single mother and this has been very difficult. I miss El Salvador a lot, but I cannot return, and we have to make it here, away from my parents. Please support us in achieving legal status.


Anonymous community member's story

The impact on a family when a single member is prosecuted for immigration violations is significant. My husband came to the United States more than 20 years ago, when he was 16 years old, with a dream of getting ahead. One day, a day like any other, he went to work, and the police were waiting for him. I talked with our lawyer, and she mentioned that the police had already turned him over to immigration. My husband was given a court hearing, and thankfully he was given a cancellation of deportation, because our oldest daughter was born premature and has some health issues.

He was later able to obtain a work permit, which he has had for over 10 years. Every time he has to renew it, that's another expense he has to pay.

As his wife, I feel calmer knowing that he has his work permit, and that he can continue to work as long as he has it. At the same time, there is still fear that something might happen. He has to be careful not to make any mistakes, not even a stray comment, because otherwise we might be forced to leave the country. We take care of ourselves, we don't go out a lot, and we try to avoid exposing ourselves as much as possible. It affects me as his wife, as well - I don't feel like I have much tranquility, if an accident happens and you are there, it may be a reason for ICE to deport you.

Some time after my husband's deportation was canceled, I began to feel bad, and my doctors found a mole, which turned out to be cancer. The doctor told me that are many ways that stress accumulates, and I am very stressed by my husband's situation, wondering if they would send us back to Mexico with our three daughters. And Mexico is a challenging place right now with the cartels.

My oldest daughter is the one that I feel has been affected the most, and I've taken her to a psychology. Despite the fact that she was so young when all this happened, my daughter understood and internalized the things that were happening during those years. It's made her insecure: for example, if my husband doesn't arrive home early and she feels that he's late, she tells me, "call him and ask him, what time is he going to arrive?" And when Donald Trump ran for President, my daughter was very stressed, and asked me, "if he wins, what should we do?!" She already understands this more and I think it affects her more than her sisters. She's only 14, and even though she's doing well in school, I know she carries this stress with her.

It feels like our hands are tied when it comes to making plans as a family. We don't want to return to Mexico because of the cartels, which kidnap and kill so many people. We have no plans to go back, we want to fight to remain here, and this is a barrier to making plan, because if they deport my husband and we have to return, the process is uncertain and we don't make plans either in Mexico or here.

We are risking buying a house for our daughters but we're afraid of what happens if they arrest and deport him. What happens to that dream?! I think that if immigration reform happens, it would give us tranquility and stability for all of us, especially our daughters, who we are fighting for because they were born here.

If I could speak to Congress, I would tell them to support immigration reform. The people who are here are working for a better future, that the workers get up very early, work until very late, and the only thing they do is to contribute to this country. Even though we're limited in the risks we can take, we still support the community. The only mistake my husband made was coming here undocumented, but he has shown that he is a good person who fights every day for his family.

I do volunteer work and I like to do it even though I live with the fear that they might take our information or check our documents. But I participate with several organizations, and I know that if I can help our community it will help to make change and achieve equality.

Things would change so much for us if Congress passed immigration reform. We would have more stability and be able to plan for the future. I know that we are not the only ones in this situation, that thousands of people are going through what I did with my husband. My husband rarely talks about his case, because he is very quiet, but he does share how he has changed our lives because of how the expenses have multiplied. We hope that Congress will pass something for our people.


Ángel's story

My name is: Angel, and I am a DACA recipient

It had been 21 years since my mother and I left from Yucatan, Mexico. I had asthma and was very sick, and my mother didn't want to lose me. She was afraid I was going to die because I could not breathe well and couldn't get enough oxygen, and she thought that here in the United States we could get medical care that wasn't available in Yucatan.

She decided to come to the United States and bring me with her so that she can give me a better life. That is what I am trying to do now: studying in school, working and not getting in trouble with the law, and what I think is having a better life.

I am the oldest of 7 children. I have 6 siblings who are all born here in the United States, and I am the only one who has DACA. I did not understand that I was an undocumented immigrant until I was 13 or 14 years old. After the DACA program started, my mother let me know what my situation, was and that because of that situation I have many barriers to achieving my goals. Later I discovered that they are significant barriers, and it was difficult for me to pay for college because of my status. Some programs do pay for undocumented Latino students but only a little.

I've been afraid that they would eliminate the DACA program during the Trump administration because it's the only thing that allows me to work and get ahead, and without that I would have to stay on the street or go back to Mexico. I've lived here for years and I no longer remember much of Mexico, so if they deported me or I returned on my own, things would be very different, my future wouldn't be happy, and I wouldn't have the opportunities the United States has given me. When Trump took office, I was very afraid, and so were my parents.

My fiancee, who I've been with for years, was also afraid because if some day they detained and deported me, I wouldn't know the country of Mexico! Sure, I was born there but I don't know how the political system is there, how to get a job, how much I should earn, I think I'd lose myself in the system in Mexico. And it scares me to think about that situation.

And thinking about myself or my parents being deported worries me, because my nearest sibling is 17 years old and the rest are younger, and they won't be able to support themselves if they have to live on their own. I don't think they yet know the system or how to get a job, support a household or pay bills, or any of that. 

My dream since I was 12 or 13 years old is to be part of the Police Department and with the situation that I have right now with DACA, I do not have the ability to become an officer, because I have to be a citizen. That is a great barrier for me because I have served many communities such as Clackamas County, Multnomah County, in cities like Troutdale, Fairview and other areas and they know me for the service that I have given to them. But because I am not a citizen I cannot become a police officer. Not many police speak Spanish or know the culture and I want to change that, but I can't without my citizenship.

I am currently working for Amazon and working my way up to a managerial position. I'm taking classes to get my diploma, although I don't have much money to go to a university because I have to work. I have my own house and I have to maintain my home, so I don't have any other life plans because the barriers that exist to me reaching my goals.

What I want to ask Congress is that they think of our future. There are young people here going to school and working who came from all over the world, and we are the future of the United States. We will be members of Congress and serve this country but only if we have a pathway to citizenship. Why not help people who want to be part of America with pride? We want to be part of this country.

Another issue with DACA is that we can't join the armed forces. I have spoken with friends who have DACA and want to be part of the armed forces of the United States but because of their immigration situation they cannot. If we want this country to flourish, they have to help people serve it.

Please give us an opportunity. For so many years we have already worked for what we want to do in this country, we want to do so many different things, and we want to be a benefit to the United States. I cannot understand why you wouldn't take action now. If not now, when?! How long does our community have to wait to achieve our goals and dreams?

We carry the future of this country with us. DACA was a good thing but we need more action, do better than we did yesterday. Help those of us who are already taking these steps, stop detaining our people, and give us residency and citizenship. We want to give more to the country that has welcomed us since we were children. As an adult I already feel capable of achieving a better life with more opportunity, as you've already heard. We do not want these barriers, we want to move forward. We want to empower our community. My ability to achieve my dream is in your hands.