At a press conference in downtown Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square on Friday, undocumented immigrants took turns at the mic, listing their accomplishments like a well-rehearsed elevator pitch.
Bianca Ramirez recently completed her certified nursing assistant program and is working towards becoming a registered nurse. She works two or three jobs at a time, seven days a week, 12-hour shifts. She takes two classes online.
Jhoana Monroy doesn’t live off of welfare. She pays taxes and is a mentor who “impacts the lives of thousands of youth every year.” She’s a mother whose daughters have everything they need because her and her partner provide for them.
Liliana Luna is a master’s student in counseling at Portland State University. She dreams of opening her own nonprofit to provide low-cost counseling for families.
“I always have to work two-to-three times harder than what I see other people working for, just to prove my existence,” Luna said. “At one point I just prefer sometimes to give up.”
But she says giving up is a death sentence. Giving up means returning to Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, at the border of Texas and Mexico. It means returning to the place where, 12 years ago, her parents decided they wanted and needed a better life. It means returning to the place where drug cartels scared her family out of the country.
The same day the White House announced President Donald Trump’s plans to unveil his decision on the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Luna, a DACA recipient, stood before a small crowd of people at Pioneer Courthouse Square urging people to fight for the only program keeping her in the United States.
To do that, Luna says undocumented immigrants have to constantly justify their right to stay. And that means telling everyone what makes them worthy, deserving of a life in the United States.
“It’s emotionally exhausting,” Luna said. “We’re living with constant threats, with constant depression, anxiety and it’s not healthy for us.”
Luna says the undocumented community doesn’t really talk publicly about the health effects of living undocumented. But she says a lot of her friends have to go to the doctor or see counselors to deal with the overwhelming amount of pressure that comes being undocumented. Luna says she has to deal with that, in addition to all the normal stresses that come with being a college student.
The DACA program, started under President Barack Obama, temporarily suspends deportation for people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. It allows approved applicants to work legally in the United States.
Luna is one of 787,580 people nationwide who have applied for DACA and have been approved. In a January interview with OPB, Luna said that if DACA goes away for her, she could lose the things she’s worked hard for.
“We’re here to contribute,” Luna said. “We’re here to make the United States better.”
In front of the crowd of people, Luna said she was there with three of her peers to give a face to the undocumented community.
“We are making America great,” she told the crowd. “Again, and again, and again.”