- Undocumented immigrants across America are emerging from the shadows
- Some risk deportation by joining street protests and speaking at news conferences
It was awkward revealing the truth to them, she said. Filled with embarrassment and shame, Lira confessed this week to being an undocumented immigrant.
“I basically told them my whole story,” said Lira, a Tennessee resident who crossed the border from Mexico illegally with her parents when she was 2 years old.
“My biggest fear was (my friends) not wanting to know me anymore but they’re very supportive. They love me and I love them back.”
Across America, some of the country’s more than 11 million undocumented immigrants are emerging from the shadows. They’re declaring their legal status to friends and coworkers. They’re joining a struggle for immigrant rights, educating others like them and risking arrest and deportation by joining streets protests and speaking at news conferences.
Some have strong words for those who see them as criminals worthy of immediate deportation. They were insulted when Donald Trump called some Mexican immigrants “rapists” as he launched his presidential campaign at Trump Tower in New York. They want Americans to view them as neighbors who harbor dreams not far removed from other generations of newcomers to the United States.
“I’ve been living in fear, not only for myself but for my family, for people that I know,” Lira said.
“Fear that my parents will be ripped away from me. That I’ll be ripped away from them. That I’ll be ripped away from the land that I called home for the last 19 years.”
‘I am the definition of being American’
Since his inauguration in January, President Trump’s immigration crackdown has sent waves of uncertainty through immigrant communities. But some undocumented immigrants have been emboldened to join efforts seeking an overhaul of the immigration system.
“I think it’s time for us to be united, to present a strong front, to actually fight for what we want,” Lira said.
While the new administration has said criminals are a priority, Trump has expanded enforcement powers to potentially deport undocumented immigrants who have lived in their communities for years — and may have family members who are legal US residents or citizens.
The DACA protections set up a procedure for verifying the roughly 750,000 participants in the program, including background checks. In exchange, the recipients receive permits to work and seek education in the US, though they do not receive citizenship or legal status.
Lira is nervous about the future despite qualifying for a temporary reprieve from deportation under DACA, she said. Her parents are undocumented.
“I think I am the definition of being American,” she said.
“I’m an immigrant. I work for everything I want. I pay my taxes. A lot of us pay our taxes. We find our way to not do anything illegal. We try to follow all the laws except of course coming to this country illegally.”
‘This is my country, too’
Lara and his wife took a risk agreeing to an on-camera interview with CNN. They’re tired of living in fear, they said. They’re both undocumented; their toddler was born in the US.
In two months, Lara must report back to ICE. He previously spent nine months in immigration detention after being picked up during what he said was a traffic stop.
Asked if he had a message for Trump, Lara was quickly cut off by his wife.
“What would he do if he was in our situation?” Valeria Zamora, holding their sleeping toddler in her arms, said of the President. “We cant take the crime in our countries. What would he do if they wanted to deport him and separate him from his family?”
Zamora, who is undocumented and has spent five years in the US, said she would remind Trump of the long days she spent last year clearing out moldy, water-logged homes after massive flooding in Baton Rouge.