NM license eases fear of deportation, immigrants say

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Deportation is a risk for undocumented immigrants living in the United States, but Alejandra Gomez doesn’t worry about it much. Her New Mexico driver’s license gives her confidence that she’s less likely to be deported.

Since she received her license three years ago, Gomez, 21, has twice been pulled over for speeding and once cited for not having her 2-year-old daughter in a car seat. Local police didn’t call immigration authorities.

Alan Tarango of Sunland Park, on the other hand, doesn’t have a license and doesn’t drive because his mother fears he could be pulled over and deported. It’s a concern the 19-year-old shares.

Tarango and Gomez were both born in Cuidad Juárez, Mexico, but the two have only known life in the United States. Both fear deportation and say they would try to return if ever sent back to Mexico.

Both believe having a New Mexico driver’s license helps undocumented immigrants function in the United States while reducing the chance of deportation.

Coming to the United States as children

Family members brought Gomez across the Rio Grande to El Paso, Texas when she was 2 or 3 years old – she doesn’t know exactly when. She hasn’t returned to Juárez since.

Her family moved around El Paso for years before settling in Chaparral, a poor, rural community in Southern New Mexico. The cost of living was cheaper there, Gomez explained.

Recently she had a fight with her parents and they kicked her out, so she and her two children – she also has a 5-month-old son – live with her boyfriend and his family in Anthony.

Tarango entered the United States with his grandparents when he was 5 years old, in 1998. At the time, he had a temporary visa to visit the United States. He lived in a mobile home in Sunland Park with his grandparents and another cousin, and was joined by his mother a few months later. Though only allowed to visit, they planned to live here long-term. Tarango has stayed years beyond the expiration of his visa.

Today, Tarango and other family members are working with an El Paso lawyer to try to gain legal status. They were approved for legal residency several years ago, but his grandfather died before that process was finished and they didn’t follow through until recently.

If the attorney can’t help, Tarango said he would apply for the Obama Administration’s deferred action program, which would issue work permits to some undocumented immigrants who came here as children.

Tarango has completed one semester of college, but he ran out of money and had to put those plans on hold. He said he hopes to get back to college someday.

In Mexico, ‘they barely make it through a day’

Gomez understands the risk of deportation and the realities on the ground in Juárez. Her two older brothers were deported in June, days before the Obama Administration announced its deferred action program.

Her brothers were being held in the Doña Ana County Detention Center at the time of their deportation, and they remain in Juárez. Gomez’s younger sister, a U.S. citizen, visits their brothers. Gomez wishes she could go too but fears she wouldn’t be able to re-enter the United States. She said she worries about her brothers and prays for them.

To make matters worse, last October, Gomez’s cousin, who was 19 years old, was killed in Juárez.

“What my family and I know is that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said. “And they killed him ugly. They shot him nine times.”

Gomez said she would try to return to the United States if she were deported, even if it meant doing so illegally. If she were unable to come back, she would leave her children with family in the United States, she said.

Gomez said people there “barely make it through a day,” referring to the violence in Mexico.

“I don’t think I’d make a life there. I’d just go crazy,” she said. “There’s no chances there.”

If deported, ‘I’m guessing I would come back’

For now, Tarango is focused on immediate needs – trying to find work, get a driver’s license and gain legal status. Like Gomez, he worked for an activist group during the election. The group helped both form businesses and then contracted for their services, which is legal. Now Tarango is searching for another job.

He will take pretty much any job he can find, he said, but, because of the fear of deportation, he wants a driver’s license for one job he’s discovered – making deliveries for a business that is willing to hire undocumented workers.

Like Gomez, Tarango, who has only “vague memories” of Mexico, said he would try to return to the United States if he were deported. He last visited seven years ago, when he still had a traveling visa that allowed him to return to the United States.

“By now I probably don’t even know what it’s like. Everything has changed. Violence and everything over there has escalated to the point that even the residents over there don’t feel safe,” he said. “Can you imagine me, an outsider who’s lived here my whole life? I wouldn’t know what to do.”

“So I’m guessing I would come back too, whether through the desert or the river,” Tarango said.

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