Among the things Laura López wants to tell people about being undocumented is one simple fact: It's not easy.
“It takes a toll on people’s lives. Not just materially, you’re drained mentally for all the years that you've been here,” she says. "It's harder than people think, to pack up your bags and leave."
López lived in Mexico City until she was 12. She crossed the border by foot with her mother and two younger sisters to join her father, who had already lived in the US for two years. She remembers that time in flashes — the flight to Tijuana, staying in a coyote’s house for a few days and finally arriving in California.
Even then, her parents prepared her for a life undocumented. They told her that some people would say mean things and would tell her to "go back to your country." They said to be strong and remember that they are in the US for a better education and opportunities. They gave her practical advice too: If she were ever detained by the police or immigration she was not to say a thing until she was in touch with her parents, a lawyer or her uncles who are US citizens.
Courtesy of Laura López
"They have no idea what the situation is like down there. [Parents] are worrying about their kids," López says.
She meets the criteria to be considered under President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, for both the extended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) programs. The programs will give work permits and temporary relief from deportation to undocumented immigrants who qualify.
López runs a cleaning business with her mother, but she wants to become a court translator. She wants to live her life without having to depend on her husband’s status as a US citizen; her business is now under her husband's name. Mostly, she wants relief — even if it’s temporary — from the fear that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement can separate her from her family.
“If I'm ever with my kids and a police officer pulls me over and they want to check if I'm here legally, they could turn me into immigration. It would be a nightmare. It’s terrifying to think of that,” she says.
The Obama administration has appealed the court order blocking the extended DACA and DAPA programs. The government was initially slated to begin accepting applications on Feb. 18.