Life, 14 years after crossing the border

Life, 14 years after crossing the border

CAMDEN — Leticia slept through the most dramatic — most would say nerve-racking — event in her life.

She was being brought into the United States by a woman she had never met before, and who was being paid to drive her. She had been given a fake name and a forged passport, and she had been coached on what to say if she was questioned by officials at the border.

She was 11 years old and spoke no English.

Somewhere her father — who had returned to Mexico to make the arrangements in order to reunite his small family in the United States — was crossing the border by foot. Years earlier, he made a similar trip for Leticia’s mother, bringing each one to the U.S. as soon as he could afford to. Leticia had been living with her grandparents in Mexico.

Although the life-changing nature of the journey was not lost on her, she fell asleep on the drive. When she woke up and asked the driver when she would be questioned, they were already across the border.

She hasn’t slept much since.

Now 25, she speaks fluent English, holds down a full time job and is finishing her final semester at Rutgers-Camden as a full time student. She gets up at 6:30 a.m. and some evenings doesn’t return home until 11 p.m.

A couple of days a week, for example, she arrives at her job, where she works as an administrative assistant, at 7:30 a.m.; leaves to attend classes; returns to work; and then leaves again for evening classes and to study in the library until it closes.

It’s a grueling schedule that leaves little time for socializing or dating, but she will graduate this month with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance and a minor in management.

The U.S. government has struggled for years with the issue of children who have been brought to the country illegally. Leticia is currently one of more than 750,000 unauthorized immigrants who currently have reprieve from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program.

The U.S. bishops have consistently been supportive of these undocumented immigrants, who have come to see the United States as their home. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles could have been speaking of Leticia in 2012 when he commented on the DREAM Act as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration.

“These youth are bright, energetic and eager to pursue their education and reach their full potential. They did not enter our nation on their own volition, but rather came to the United States with their parents as children, something all of us would do,” he said.

Leticia and her parents are currently living in a house they just bought, their first house, after living in apartments for years.

When Leticia began seventh grade, one of her classmates was a friend from her hometown in Mexico. Leticia learned English in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, and later graduated from a vocational/high school, where she studied cosmetology. But she wanted to go to college, so she went through community college and then enrolled at Rutgers-Camden. She wears a “promise ring” her parents gave her when she earned her associate’s degree as a symbol that she would get a bachelor’s.

When President Trump was elected, after saying as a candidate that he would aggressively go after the country’s 11 million unauthorized immigrants, Leticia said many of the people in her parish were fearful and anxious. Many children at the parish school were fearful their parents would be deported. Also fearful were Leticia’s father, who works 10-12 hours a day as a cook, and her mother, who works part time at a dry cleaners.

Leticia herself felt compelled to cancel some overseas educational opportunities because of President Trump’s travel ban, and she has encountered some anti-immigrant attitudes as a student.

She was invited to speak about her experiences last month at a local interfaith prayer service for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, but she doesn’t eagerly talk about politics. No doubt thinking of her parents, she says she would like to see immigrant reform that offers some protection and rights to those undocumented who have been living in this country for years, working hard and obeying the law.

As part of her post-graduation plan, Leticia will be returning to Mexico for a visit for the first time in 14 years, eager to see her grandparents again.

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