Interview translated from Spanish. Angela is applying to be a US citizen.
My parents came to the US from Honduras nine years before I came here. My brother and sisters and I lived with our grandparents during that time. My mother came in 1994, my father a year later. They came for economic reasons, to be able to work. These nine years without my parents were very difficult for me and my brother and sisters. We all missed the joy of sharing many important moments.
I was 16 when I came here, the last of my siblings to leave. I was seven months pregnant, and came with my boyfriend. After crossing the border of Honduras,
We crossed through El Salvador, Guatemala, and México. Although we traveled by car, for me it was very uncomfortable because I was pregnant. I also feared having to travel with the coyotes, men who were strangers to me. Making stops of days or weeks in each county, it took us a month to get to the border.
The person in charge of crossing us to the other side took us one morning to the river; he sat me on an inflated tire, with my boyfriend walking next to me. Thank God that day the river was not dangerous.
After crossing the coyote left us and told us to look for immigration agents. He told us we should tell them we were siblings since I was not 16 years old yet and they could charge him and send him to prison. I was seven months pregnant I would not be able to walk across the desert.
Everything went well, thank God. They gave us a temporary permit for three months to meet my parents, and let us go. However, after leaving the office we didn’t know what to do, since we didn’t know where we were. With God’s blessing at that point we ran into a guy who was coming to renew his permit, and he took us to the refuge center for people that have crossed the border where he was staying.
At night, we decided to leave that place because we were afraid—there were all sorts of people! We finally managed to take a bus. During the three days it took to reach Philadelphia, we only ate crackers: we feared getting off the bus and asking for food since we didn’t know any English. Those three days without eating were the most difficult ones of my pregnancy!
After three months, I had an interview with an immigration officer, and was told to leave the country. I got a lawyer to help me to ask for an extension, but I never found out if it was granted. I came in 2003. My son was born here, and two years later my daughter. Later I was told there would be no extension, and I thought about going back, but my parents were here, and my children. A short time after my daughter was born, they came to look for my boyfriend, but he was not home, so they grabbed my uncle and brother-in-law instead. They were incarcerated for a long time and then deported. For me, if I waited until my son turns 18, he could apply for me to stay.
There was always the risk of deportation. In 2010, because of Facebook, they sent a letter ordering me to leave the country, a letter in English. After that I moved from place to place so as not to be found. I have four sisters and one brother. They all got into trouble because of my deportation order, put into the spotlight because of me. We all moved from place to place together.
My mother has been involved in the New Sanctuary Movement for seven years. People from the Sanctuary Movement suggested that I could stay in a church, but I thought this was not a permanent solution, that I would be illegal forever. It was a long process and I asked different people, but I decided to come forward and take this action. In November 2014 I moved into the West Kensington Ministry. Many clergy members are part of the network of the Sanctuary Movement.
I never thought this would be a big deal. I thought it was a safe place to stay in the church while finding a legal solution to be able to stay with my children. I did not think this action would get so much publicity, but it really attracted attention to the deportation of people with similar stories, people who have families here who are being deported, families that are being separated.
The publicity did help my situation. I was granted a “stay of removal” which stopped the deportation order, and I was given a work permit. My husband is an American citizen, but because the deportation order was from before our marriage, it was not lifted when we married. Now they will look at my marriage license and I will have a better chance to stay here. Because of the publicity, a lawyer heard of my case and offered help. She helped me get the work permit, and hopefully I will get a green card. She is helping me to apply to become a citizen. My parents have permits to stay and to work, which they have to renew every few years, but they are not citizens. When they came here the rules were different. I came after 9/11 and the rules have become much harsher.
I remember the day I left, crystal clear. It was February 14, 2003. My grandmother and aunt took me to the bus station to say goodbye. I knew I would not see them again. I do not remember any special goodbye meal, but I was pregnant and remember that I craved melon and mango a lot.
I remember when I arrived—I got off the bus in Philadelphia—I couldn’t wait to see my mother. I started crying. I had not seen her in nine years. My mother said if I had not stood up to meet her she would not have recognized me, but I recognized my mother.
Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.