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Yesenia A. Columbia, SC

Yesenia’s Story

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Br: Laffon Brelland, Jr.

Yesenia A. is a first-generation American whose family is from Mexico. Like me, she is an undergraduate at the University of South Carolina, pursuing of a bachelor’s of science in pre-pharmacy. And like me, Yesenia was able to attend college because of scholarships she earned so that her family would not have to support her financially.

Growing up, Yesenia and her older brother lived with her parents in a tiny rented home with only two bedrooms, one of which was so small it could barely fit a bed and one dresser. She had extended family that often stayed with her family so she spent most of her year sleeping in the living room on the couch.

Her father migrated to America from Mexico. After holding down a steady job for several years in construction, her father became a citizen. Her mother had to venture into America by other means, but after a few years, received her permanent residency. In 2000, the family welcomed a third child into the family. All three kids were born in the U.S.

In elementary school, Yesenia did not do many extracurricular activities because her father’s busy work schedule didn’t permit him time to drive her to and from activities, and her mother was afraid of leaving the house any more than necessary due to her immigration status.

Yesenia’s mother could not work because she was undocumented, and the family had to rely on her father’s modest income as a construction worker. There were years where her family was struggling to eat. She told me, “Bills had to be paid one way or another, so that year we went without buying food for a few weeks at a time. I hadn’t seen our fridge that empty in a while. Feeding a family of five with only one person working in construction hasn’t been an easy task for my father.”

The struggle is the same for many other undocumented immigrants and their families face. I too grew up in a mixed-status family. It is the same struggle I see in my own mother when I go home and the same struggle I see in my father every time he goes to his construction job. For me and Yesenia, every moment with our family is important because we spend so much time and effort trying to ensure our financial stability. At the same time, we are aware that that stability can be taken away at any moment. The job market could fall again, or our fathers could get injured. My father could be deported. Anything could happen, and our families could be back to the “dark days.”

To a family that is already struggling to get by, deporting a working family member is like pulling the ground out from beneath their feet. I know because it happened to my family, and it took both an emotional and economic toll on us all. Luckily for Yesenia, both of her parents have now obtained permanent residency status. She has never had to live through the deportation of one of her family members, and now she never will.