Oakland, CA — My close friend from school can light up any room. He makes people laugh, he dishes out handshakes left and right, and most of all, he has a truly infectious smile. I remember the very first thing my mom said to me after meeting him was, “That boy just has the sweetest smile in the world, doesn’t he?”
Until just a few weeks ago, I never would’ve guessed that he had so much hidden behind that smile. One day in class we were joking around, neglecting our assignments, when I brought up the idea of traveling to another country, to which
When I asked him why, he told me in the most casual, nonchalant way that it was
Whether you follow the news or not, it’s hard to deny the issue of immigration has become a heavily debated topic in our country. Even my friend, who came to this country illegally, is morally conflicted by the controversial migrant caravan.
Recently, I decided to sit down with my friend to have an open conversation about how he crossed the border, what it’s like to be an undocumented young person in the Trump era, and what his thoughts are on the migrant caravan at the border. I've withheld his name for security purposes.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Eli Berrick/ YR Media: What are your thoughts on the news that’s been coming in regarding the migrant caravan at the U.S. border?
Friend: Honestly, I’m against it but also for it. I’ve seen all these videos that show migrants throwing rocks at helicopters and doing all these things that they shouldn’t be doing. Being violent is not the right way to go about it. If they want sanctuary here in the U.S., they should definitely be more peaceful about it. But at the same time, I’m for it, because I feel them, you know? They come to this country, wanting a better life for themselves and their families.
EB/YR: What do you remember about your experience coming to America?
Friend: I was 4, turning 5. I remember that in order to come here, we had to pay people to bring us across. Some dude that my dad knew drove [me and my sister across the border] and we used false papers. We were scared, but our parents told us to stay calm, that everything would be OK. My sister was crying almost the whole way, so I was trying to stay calm for her. At some point, the guy told us to go to sleep, so we slept the rest of the way. When I woke up, we [were with another man] who we later found out was my uncle. We had already crossed, but I didn't know that at the time. I thought I was still in Mexico. I thought my parents were going to be there when we woke up, but they weren't, so I was scared. My parents ended up staying in Mexico for two more weeks before they crossed over to meet us.
EB/YR: What's your documentation status now?
Friend: I'm not completely sure, but basically there’s no record of me or my sister being here. We don't have a visa or a green card. We don't have anything to identify us as who we are.
EB/YR: Does your status make you feel different from other young people in any way?
Friend: Honestly, I don't feel any different. I mean, of course, there are things I can't do. I can't travel out of the country, so I can't visit my family back in Mexico. That sucks because, like, the majority of my family is back in Mexico and I can't ever see them. That kind of gets to me sometimes.
EB/YR: Do you ever worry about being caught or deported?
Friend: I personally don't because say an ICE officer ever talks to me, right? I speak English. I've lived here pretty much all my life. They're not going to just assume I'm an illegal immigrant, right? I'm more scared for my parents. They don't speak English as well as me, and they don't know what to do in that situation. I'm not going to be with them all the time to help them out, so I worry for them.
EB/YR: How did your family react when President Trump took office?
Friend: When Trump was elected, of course I was scared. My whole family was scared. But I was able to keep cool for them to show them that everything's going to be OK.
EB/YR: Everything you're saying sounds so brave. Where do you think that sense of strength and resilience came from?
Friend: I grew up with my dad, who’s always been a very tough guy. When he's not there, I'm the one that looks over my mom and my sisters. I hate seeing them be scared. I used to be scared with them, but I realized that if I keep myself cool, they'll channel that from me. My parents are always worried these days, mostly about [the possibility] of us having to go through the process of being taken away. There's all this controversy about separating families, so they never want us to experience that. I try to keep myself and my younger sisters cool, so my parents don't have another thing to worry about.
EB/YR: Looking back, are you upset that your parents brought you here?
Friend: I thank them a lot. When we first arrived here and I realized I wasn't going to be able to see my family in Mexico anymore, I got really upset at them. If I was still [in Mexico], I’d probably just be working instead of going to school. I probably wouldn't have the clothes I have now. I'm here and I'm grateful because they gave me the opportunity to [do what] they never had the opportunity to do.
EB/YR: Is there anything that you wish people understood about what is like to be undocumented?
Friend: There’s a lot of people that don’t like undocumented people and think we’re all the same, but we all come here for different reasons. We come here to be successful, not to take people’s jobs, not to do illegal things, none of that. We simply don’t want the life that we lived in Mexico. We want a better life. We want to be able to thrive.