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Growing Up an Immigrant in a Place You Call Home

Nov. 2, 2016
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As the upcoming presidential election is quickly approaching, a major topic on the lips of our controversial candidates is that of immigration. 

As stated by Republican candidate, Donald Trump, if elected, he will heavily enforce immigration laws, building borders and ending sanctuary cities. 

“Send criminal aliens home,” said Trump during his September 17th speech. “Welcome those who embrace our way of life, but keep out immigrants and refugees who don’t go through rigorous vetting.” 

According to a study taken by the Pew Research Center in 2014, there are approximately 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. today. That’s 3.5% of the nation’s population. Many of these immigrants have spent a majority of their lives in the U.S. and would have no other place to call home if they were deported. 

Although the public frequently hears the opinions of our government officials debating the lives of immigrants, it is rare to hear the many voices of those it effects - you know, the ones who don’t get a vote. 

Zyshia Williams, age 25 and now a UCLA graduate, was born in Belize. At the age of 10 she and her older brother, Zemero, moved to Los Angeles California to be with their mother. Seeking a more affordable educational system and better economic opportunities, Williams soon became constantly faced with the fear of deportation, the reality of starting over and making new friends, the challenging route of obtaining an education without being a U.S. citizen, and the constant fight and debate between immigrants and the U.S government.       

“During the last debate Hillary pointed out that immigration used to be a bipartisan issue.” said Williams. “Republican Ronald Reagan was pro-immigration. But I think that after 9/11 there has been a push-back on immigration reform, even if it negatively affects the 11 million people who have been in this country for an extended time and call this country home.”      

Zemero Requena, age 27 and now a thriving film editor, came to the U.S. with Williams at the age of 13. In school, he struggled to learn English and was frequently teased about his Belizean accent. California was his home, yet he was lead to believe that his voice did not matter. 

“When I first came to the U.S one of the struggles was learning and speaking English. In middle school, the kids would make fun of my Belizean accent, so it was difficult to voice my opinion in class.” said Requena. “Growing older it was difficult to get a job - I wanted to work to help my mom out, but I didn't have any paperwork. Every day I would fear the thought of getting deported. Cops to me were scary. There were times when I didn't go out with friends because I was scared something might happen and I would be caught and sent back to Belize.”

Maria, age 26, was born in Guatemala and moved to Inglewood, California with her mother at the age of one. Maria’s father was already living in California, and they believed moving to the U.S. would provide her with the best opportunities for her life. Since 5th grade Maria had dreamed of going to college and becoming a lawyer. She knew her path would be more difficult than those of her friends, even though she had lived in the U.S. a majority of her life. 

“Growing up thinking that deportation is around the corner is living in fear.” said Maria. “Thinking that one day your dad might not come home because of a routine traffic stop. You just grow up hearing stories about neighbors being picked by ICE and watching their kids cry because Dad was in jail. It really makes you think, what would I do if that happened to me?

On June 15th, 2012, President Obama introduced the Deferred Action policy, which was intended for undocumented individuals who came to the U.S. as children. The policy allows for immigrants who meet certain criteria to obtain a work permit, a temporary social security number, and a driver’s license. However, with the political views of the future president looming in the air, many immigrants fear what the future will hold for them. 

“I am very concerned about this election for many reasons.”  Said Maria. “When it comes to immigration, I fear Donald Trump will be radical and cut off DACA. I don’t believe he will be understanding to the people like me who have lived here their whole lives and don’t have a life in their birth country.”

Cover Image by Ginger Port