A hazy future remains for those living in the US without legal permission

Jemima Malote

Arts & Features Writer

jmalote1@unca.edu

Photos by Jemima Malote Daniel Blanco and his girlfriend, Daniela Sanchez, stand on his porch.

In high school, Daniel Blanco lived the dream. He played soccer, football and everyone knew him at school. He drove a heavily tinted, yellow 2004 Ford Mustang, which his parents eventually confiscated because of his speeding.

He wore Adidas pants, Vans, his soccer jersey and a branded hoodie. On the weekends he worked at his father’s construction company, saving the money in hopes of buying his own home.

Now he’s 22-years-old. He drives a PT Cruiser, wears cowboy boots, dark wash jeans, a striped sweater and a black Yeti hat. He also has his own trailer in the same neighborhood as his parents and plans on creating his own construction company like his father.

“I didn’t have any problems with anybody, everything was just so perfect. Like the way you were dreaming,” he said.

At 12-years-old, Blanco moved to a new school, home and country. He started his first day of school hesitant about his ability to make friends, but as the days passed and to his surprise, he found the children welcoming. Although he made friends, he still struggled with learning English.

A few months before, Blanco faced the grueling challenge of crossing the U.S. border, alone.

“If somebody asked me, ‘do I recommend coming that way?’ no, never,” Blanco said.

Moving to America

The room is dark. A single overhead light shines on an El Salvador flag centered on the wall just above Blanco. He slides his right hand toward the outer edge of the sofa, feeling the texture of the seat as he leans back. He sits for three seconds, then he speaks in a low, calming voice.    

“You have to prepare mentally. You go through a lot of fatigue,” he said.

His eyes shift, switching from the coffee table to the door, his tone and pacing remain the same.

“Passing through Mexico, you suffer a lot,” Blanco said. “You hear about human trafficking and stuff like that. It’s just not the way you want to come here.”

He stops for three seconds, his face remains unchanged. He takes a deep breath and continues.

“I was the youngest one there,” he said. “I did witness somebody being left behind too. If they survived, good, if they died, well. Being only 12, you are afraid to be left behind.”

A tool kit, work boots and shoes lay neatly clustered by the door. In the corner of the room hides a maroon graduation cap, blending in with the light wooden walls.    

“The first couple of years, I was kind of afraid, but then the longer you stay here, and my skin color is white. I act more white than Hispanic and that actually helped me. Now I can just go out and do my regular life without thinking or being afraid to go out,” he said.

One night, Blanco relaxed and allowed himself to stay out late with friends at Cookout. Later, he noticed a car pull into the parking lot. He glanced at his friend and they left.

  During her freshman year of high school, while waiting for her mother to pick her up, an upperclassman asked Adriana Guerrero Ramirez, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Puzzled, and short of an answer, she responded, “A lawyer.”

“Before being a lawyer. I wanted to be a fashion designer,” she said.

Everyday Guerrero Ramirez woke up at 6:30 a.m., contemplated her outfit for school and changed. Then she entered school with a smile on her face, greeting her friends, classmates and teachers as she walked to class.

After school she returned home, she gossiped with her sister, helped her mother around the house and greeted her father when he returned from work. At night she worked on homework, slept and awoke to the same routine.   

“I think without family I wouldn’t be anywhere. If you don’t have a family by your side, if you don’t have people who care about you, you’re just walking alone,” she said in October.

Guerrero Ramirez spoke about her relationship with her family. At 3-years-old her mother left her in her grandmother’s care to find work in the U.S.

“I was so mad at her because she left me to come over here with my dad. I would see my cousins having both of their parents and having their dads show them love, and I was like ‘why do I not have that,’” she said.

When Guerrero Ramirez reconnected with her parents, her anger and resentment vanished, replaced by ecstasy and thrill.

“Whenever you see your parents it’s an indescribable amount of love that you feel and even when we’re so pissed at them, we still love them so much,” she said.

  At a Mexican checkpoint, Blanco sat on a bus. The driver cautioned them against giving the agents any money, telling them their payments have already been made. His heart pounded as the agents began pointing people out. As he heard his name, his heart dropped and he leaped from his seat. He hesitantly followed the agents toward a small office.       

“They knew our names and everything, which is really freaking scary,” he said.

In the office he witnessed the agents beat a man for talking back to them.   

After two days of walking in the Texas desert, Blanco and his other acquaintances slowed their pace as they dragged their feet and complained about the trek. In response, the guides gave them a pain relief pill.

In pain from three days of constant walking under the piercing desert heat, he took the pill in hopes of easing the rest of the journey. He continued walking, determined not to be left behind.

His feet burrowed deeper into the ground with each step as he watched people pass him by. Fear and disbelief filled his eyes as he woke up in the middle of the desert, alone with nothing but a phone.

“They left me behind. They drugged me,” he said.

He picked up the phone and called his mom. After two hours in the heat, someone arrived and took him to Houston.

Saved from the blaring heat, he was thrown in a cold room where he awaited his parents’ payment. A week passed and his parents made the payment.

Enduring Trump’s America

Guerrero Ramirez recalled her reaction toward Donald Trump becoming President-elect in 2016. She laughed after saying, “I was scared.” She wore an expressive face as her hands moved to shake an imaginary hand. “Hey I’m Adriana, oh, I wasn’t born here,” she said, jokingly.

Her hands wrap tightly around her chest, covering an imaginary wound over her heart, her smile vanishes, replaced by confusion and hurt.    

“There was a spark of me being scared. I don’t know how to explain it,” she said. “It’s really scary because you hear all these stories about deportation and immigration and you kind of push it off, ‘dang that’s happening, but let’s keep going.’At that time, it was like, ‘oh shoot, this might actually happen to me.’”

“Even if we have not done anything, just the fact that we are living here and we are undocumented, that’s it? Anything can happen,” she said, frustration in her voice.

Her voice heightens and falls, shifting from anger to worry recalling a conversation with a friend regarding their plan if their parents were deported. She glances at the ceiling for a quick moment before returning her gaze.

“We’re dropping out of school. We’re taking care of our siblings. That’s it. I can’t just go to school and have my sister say, ‘Hey girl, like just come home whenever,’ it wasn’t like that anymore,” Guerrero Ramirez said. “You’re the parent now. Really throughout our whole lives, we have always been sort of a parent figure to them, but now this is real.”

Clarity covers her face as she talks about the plan she made with her sister at the age of 15.

“We’re going to figure it out, you’re going to finish school. And if time comes, I’ll go back to school,” she told her.

Her voice calms and her anger shifts. Her hands follow the tempo of her voice.

“It’s crazy to even say and think about, but you’re no longer a kid, even though you are,” the 20-year-old said. “You have to be attentive. You can’t think like a kid anymore.”

  Yeraldin Guerrero Ramirez, a 14-year-old, sits in her room. It’s small but memories of sleepless nights filled with laughter and tears fill the room.

Behind her is the bed where she and her sister used to sleep, not out of necessity, but comfort.

“I actually didn’t want her to sleep on my bed before college, because it was going to affect me. I always feel her legs on me all the time and her hands up on my nose,” she said. “I miss having her right beside me. I really miss having our sleepovers and just eating a lot of junk food.”      

She sits restlessly, her hands dance around her, occasionally appearing and disappearing underneath the table. She laughs as she jokingly calls her relationship with her sister toxic.

“We’re really close with each other, we have each other’s backs,” she said. “I even tell her, ‘If you have a boyfriend and he tries to mess with you, I will fight them. I have a green belt.’”

Her smile brightens and she giggles thinking about her admiration for her sister.

“You would think this would be the easiest question, but with Adriana Guerrero I don’t know,” she said.

She looks down and her smile becomes solemn.

“She definitely doesn’t give up. She’s a very determined person. She doesn’t cry, she’s a really strange person. She’s like a rock. I’m more of the sensitive one,” she said.

Her smile returns for a moment, boosting her energy before quickly fading.

“Even when there’s a situation with my parents she tells me what to do and I go along with her. So I guess she’s really my example,” Yeraldin said.

When Guerrero Ramirez turned 15 in 2016, she applied to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It allowed her to apply for a workers permit and most importantly, protected her from deportation.   

The Trump administration announced the termination of DACA in 2017, effectively panicking 631,700 individuals and countless others.

The day after, the then 16-year-old found herself crying. She opened her laptop and hit record, marking one of the rare occasions where she let herself cry.

“I really wanted to record it because it hurt so much,” she said. “He was not allowing any more people to receive DACA and he was threatening to just take the whole thing away.”

Yeraldin recalls the day her sister cried.

“She was telling me about how if they did take DACA from her, what would happen and what would be the results. She was talking about her college,” she said.

Guerrero Ramirez’s goal of becoming a lawyer slowly took root as she witnessed people being taken advantage of.

“Helping others know their rights, whether it be in immigration, with family, criminal, corporate, any type of law, I’m helping somebody else know something,” she said. “It’s not that they don’t know much, but maybe they don’t know enough.”

Before immigrating to the U.S., Sanchez considered herself American because she was born on the continent.

“America is a continent. I was born in Central America, I am a Central American,” she said.

She became an official U.S. citizen after completing her citizenship test in 2019.

“I grew up here, I went to elementary. I was blindsided by the fact that I was a resident for most of my time here,” she said.

She sits at the edge of the couch with her feet firmly on the floor.

“It’s more than a status. It’s more like a feeling, because this is your home. You care about your life, your state and about the country,” she said.  “Together we make this country run.”

In August, Guerrero Ramirez talked about being an American.

“A person that has freedom to live in a country where you have all of your rights and you don’t ever have to be worried a day in your life,” she said.

Despite her status, Guerrero Ramirez considers herself an American.

“When you have to circle your ethnicity or race, I circle Hispanic, Mexican, Latino whatever is given, but I consider myself an American because I have been here a long time. This is all I really know,” she said.

Blanco does not consider himself an American because of his status and pride for his home country. He also cites racial issues within the U.S. as a reason why he is not American.

“They are never going to look at you the same way as an American. It doesn’t matter if you have papers or not, you’re still an immigrant because in this country, the color of your skin is a lot. Even though we got color people, they are Americans, but they have their own term, African Americans. Like for us, it’s just, we’re never going to be American. Never,” he said.

The hazy future for those illegally living in the U.S.

Yeraldin’s baby brother walks into her room wearing a striped light green and white sweater with red Elmo slippers. He grabs a lint roller from her nightstand and begins rolling it on her bed.

“I have to step up my game now since my sister is not here,” she said. “I can see what she was going through when she was here with me.”

She wishes happiness and success for her sister, but she said she wants her to show her emotions.

“The first thing I would want for her to change is to stop being so strong. She’s letting it all in and she’s going to explode,” she said.

Yeraldin talks about her biggest fears, kidnapping, sex trafficking and experiencing what happened to Diana Guerrero, the “Orange is the New Black” and “Jane the Virgin” actress who came home to find her family deported at 14-years-old.

“My mom told me that either way the presidents were going, they would still want ICE to come a lot, so nothing would change,” she said.   

For Guerrero Ramirez, her plan is simple. Finish law school and have a husband or family by the age of 30. If not, she plans on traveling the world.

“I can only take it a day at a time,” Guerrero Ramirez said. “Take it day by day.”

Regarding both political parties, Blanco considers them the same.

“One is a big mouth and the other one likes to do everything quietly,” he said. “Trump likes to do it in a big mass, take everything in a big mass and make the rest of the people afraid, while Obama just did it secretly.”

Despite his views on who is an American, Blanco said he can obtain the American Dream.

“Being an immigrant without having any paper document doesn’t mean that you cannot follow your dreams. This is a big country of opportunities and there’s a lot. You just need to know how to catch them,” he said.

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