Photo by Carolyn de Berry
Guadalupe Vazquez came first, leaving his family in Mexico and heading for California, looking to earn some money to send home. From what his daughter, Carolina, has been told by an aunt who accompanied him on the journey, the siblings went through some tough times, and eating sometimes meant foraging for food in trash bins.
Eventually, Vazquez made contact with a family friend who helped him settle in High Point.
Meanwhile, his family stayed behind in Mexico City, where they lived in a three-bedroom house. Each of the two bedrooms included a bed and a chair, and the kitchen was so small that it could fit only a stove and a table. Six of them — Carolina, her five brothers and her mother — shared one of the bedrooms. The other bedrooms were occupied by two separate families, including one headed by Guadalupe’s sister.
“Obviously, that was no way of living,” Carolina said in an interview in the atrium at the High Point Library. The fifth of six kids, Carolina, who is now 28, occasionally cast glances into the children’s room at the library to check up on her own children — 8-year-old Dayami and 6-year-old Anthony. “That’s how we got the idea to come here and join my father.”
Guadalupe returned to Mexico to bring his wife and their six children back to High Point in 1992. They had to walk for a short distance, and Edgar, the fourth oldest of the children, remembers hiding from helicopters at the border. He added that the journey was nothing like the difficulty experienced by today’s migrants, who might walk for days or weeks in the desert at risk of dehydration because of the militarization of the border and have to worry about criminal predators. Edgar was 6 at the time of the journey and Carolina was 4.
‘He got deported for driving without a license. I read all these stories about how they say they only deport criminals, but I have firsthand experience that says that isn’t the case.’ — Edgar Vazquez
Among the cruel ironies of the Vazquez family’s story is that they followed their father to North Carolina seeking a better life, but Guadalupe was deported nine years ago. He returned to Puebla, his home state, and now makes a living operating a salvage yard.
“He got deported for driving without a license,” Edgar said. “I read all these stories about how they say they only deport criminals, but I have firsthand experience that says that isn’t the case.”
Carolina’s mother remains undocumented. Carolina obtained a U-visa — a document granted to survivors of domestic violence to prevent abusers from wielding their immigration status as a weapon of control. Edgar applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, in 2013. The following year he received approval for the program, allowing him to obtain a Social Security card and a work permit. One brother obtained a visa through marriage to an American citizen, Carolina said. Three other brothers do not hold papers.
One of the realities of life for immigrant families that is not widely understood is that legal status often varies within families from one member to the next. “Legal” or “illegal” is something of an artificial binary imposed on families thanks to the fraught debate over immigration that erupted in the summer of 2006 and escalated through the emergence of the tea party and the rise of Donald Trump. And for individual family members, immigration status can also be a matter of evolution through a halting set of bureaucratic steps towards citizenship. In Carolina’s case, her U-visa makes her eligible to apply for a green card, conferring lawful permanent-resident status. Just to get a U-visa, Carolina said she had to undergo therapy and drug testing. Now, she’s working with an immigration lawyer in Greensboro to assemble character references for her green-card application.
Earlier this year, Edgar, who is now 30, visited Mexico to pay last respects to his maternal grandfather, using travel documents known as “advanced parole” that are associated with DACA, but customs officials prevented him from re-entering the United States. To aggravate matters, Edgar received a letter from the Department of Homeland Security notifying them that his DACA status was being canceled because he requested permission to re-enter the country after his travel documents had expired.
The efforts to reunify Edgar with his family in North Carolina and advance his sister’s efforts to obtain lawful permanent residency — agonizingly slow under the best of circumstances — are suddenly charged with an acute sense of urgency considering Trump’s impending inauguration on Jan. 20.
After Trump won the election, Carolina said she dropped off some documents required for her residency application and wrote on the back of the packet: “Does my application even have a chance of coming back or is it a waste of time?”
Carolina said Dayami, her daughter, started crying when she told her that Trump had won.
“She said, ‘I don’t want to go back to Mexico,’” Carolina recounted. “The funny thing is she was born here. My kids are both citizens, of course.”
Edgar said he stayed up until 3 a.m. on election night listening to the returns on the radio, and found the result “terrifying.”
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