Why you should care
Because every immigrant has a story.
Tune in tonight at 8 p.m. EST on YouTube, Facebook Watch, or your local PBS station for OZY’s innovative and compelling town hall series, Take On America, where we tackle the nation’s toughest issues. This week we bring together Latino families in New York, plus special guests.
The Bronx, New York
The following is a condensed version of an interview, translated from Spanish. Andrea is not her real name. We agreed to withhold her real name to protect family members who are undocumented immigrants.
A normal morning in my life: I wake up early, go to school. After school, I go to work from 5 to 10, and then I go home. I don’t do much. On the weekends, Friday, I go out with my friends at night after work. Saturday and Sunday I do my homework. That’s practically all I do.
Since I work in Koreatown, I have a lot of Korean friends, and I’ve noticed Koreans like to sing. So in my free time, we go and sing karaoke. Sometimes we play billiards, or we go to the movies. Obviously, sometimes we go to a club since I’m 21. With my family, sometimes we’ll go out to eat dinner.
In Honduras, the neighborhood where we lived was very dangerous. Every time I left school, there were a lot of gang members looking at me. I was the first one they were waiting for, and the guys would follow me and be like, “Oh, Andrea, come here get in my car.” Even though I would tell them no, they would say, “Haven’t you seen my tattoo?” And they would show me their tattoos that showed they were part of the gangs.
Out of fear, I would get into their cars, but they never did anything to me. They would only drop me off at my house, but I still was very scared, because what if they decided to go somewhere else and not to my house?
The verbal abuse that I saw was very surprising. People crying, kids screaming, siblings separated like my sister and I.
There were no jobs. The education wasn’t very good. We were only with my grandmother. My mother was here. So I felt alone and unsafe in Honduras. When I knew that I was going to leave the country in March 2014 when I was 16, that whole week I was so excited. I didn’t cry. My whole family was very sad because we were leaving Honduras, but I was good.
I remember that my little sister and I left the house early in the morning. We arrived at the border of Guatemala in 10 hours. We bought the tickets for the bus, we crossed Guatemala and we got lucky that the police didn’t stop us. Afterward, I think we crossed Guatemala in one day because we traveled without stopping, from one bus to another and we didn’t sleep at all. We didn’t even have a chance to take a shower or anything, because the whole day we were just traveling. From bus to bus to bus.
When we arrived at Reynosa — the border between Mexico and the U.S. — we waited there for four days so that we could cross the river. We crossed with 20 people in a small boat. When we got to the border, we had to walk. Thank God we only walked for five minutes, and the immigration patrol came near us and they took us.
I remember the police officer was a very tall man, but he was so angry at us that he kept on yelling at us. He would insult us. He was saying how dare we try to cross this border putting our lives in danger. Afterward, they put us in the cop car, and 40 minutes later we arrived at a detention center that we called the icebox because the rooms were cold. It felt safer there because they gave us food, water. There wasn’t somewhere you could clean yourself, but we were good.
In that moment, that was the point when I broke down.
They gave us the opportunity to call my mom so she could know we crossed the border, and after that, we spent one day together in the icebox, but they took my sister first and they left me an extra day. That was the point when I broke down. I didn’t know where my sister was. I didn’t know if the police had taken her and sent her back to Honduras.
The verbal abuse that I saw was very surprising. People crying, kids screaming, siblings separated like my sister and I. I kept on asking where my sister was, and no one wanted to help me. Until one officer saw that I couldn’t take it anymore, and he let me have a phone call so I could find out what was happening. I was reunited with my sister at a group home. We stayed there for 19 days, and we had a social worker.
She also interviewed us, and we told her our story. She explained what we had to do to be able to achieve legal status here. The first thing she said was we were going to have to go to immigration court, and we had to get a lawyer. When we left Brownsville, Texas, to go to New York, they told us we had to go to school.
Now that my sister and I have residency, it’s a big relief, but we’re still worried about my stepfather and my mom. They don’t have legal status yet, but they did receive work permits, but that doesn’t benefit them much. Obviously what worries me more is my mom facing deportation with us already here, which was the reason for us coming to the U.S.
I don’t even want to think about it. For my mom to have to leave, the first thing I would think is: What do I do now? If my mom leaves, I take over the responsibilities of my sister, and I’m not prepared for that.
I always told my friends that I wanted to go to New York where my mom was. I wanted to walk around Manhattan at night and see the huge buildings and all of the lights. When I came here, the first thing I did was take a picture in Manhattan, and I sent it to my friend, and he said, “Andrea, your dream came true.” So yes, I’ve always dreamed about coming here. When my mom was here, I had more strength for coming here — whatever it took.
Right now I’m studying at a community college. I’m studying criminal justice because the laws of this country really captured my imagination. Obviously, in the future, I want to be a lawyer focused on criminal law. I’m also working in a Korean restaurant and that’s what I do. I study in the mornings and work at night. One of my main goals is to invest in a house and buy my own car. I’m studying now, and I see myself graduating and continuing to study until I become a lawyer.