Ivonne and Sophia: Learning to cope with fears of deportation

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Instructor Nora Litz (right) listens as Sophia, 9, participates in a discussion during a workshop at Philadelphia nonprofit Mighty Writers.

Instructor Nora Litz (right) listens as Sophia, 9, participates in a discussion during a workshop at Philadelphia nonprofit Mighty Writers. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

Life, unauthorized” is a series from WHYY that looks at the personal immigration stories of individuals who are living in the Philadelphia region without legal status. Achieving that status can be an elusive goal for those who pursue it legally.

Ivonne, 36, from Puebla, Mexico, and daughter Sophia, 9, an American citizen

Ivonne crossed the border with the help of smugglers 11 years ago and made her way to Philadelphia. She came to the United States not because she lacked work or was in trouble — but for love. Her husband, smuggled into the country four years prior, asked for her come so that they could reunite.

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Ivonne and her family live in Philadelphia. She cleans houses, and her husband works in construction. She says it may sound strange, but she doesn’t consider herself an immigrant. The 36-year-old never felt like a foreigner, because she feels embraced by and connected to the city. But last year’s election changed that.

Ivonne has says many people she knows feel more afraid than they used to, since President Donald Trump took office. “The bad thing is that, yes, we’re afraid. I have my friends, my dad, that don’t speak any English,” she said. “He always tells me, ‘Daughter, I drive well. I’ve never had a ticket. But now the police are going to stop me. And what am I going to tell them if I don’t speak English?'”

One thing she can’t plan for is how her 9-year-old daughter, Sophia, is reacting to all this. “When we were watching the elections, she said, ‘Please, God, don’t let that wicked person win.’ He won, and she woke up crying,” Ivonne said. “She hugged me and said, ‘Mommy, you’re not leaving.’ It’s something very hard.”

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In their own words: Living in the Trump era

Sophia, a U.S. citizen, would go with her parents if they are deported. To help deal with her difficult feelings, Sophia’s been writing about them. Reading from her journal, Sophia explains why she doesn’t want her family to return to Mexico:

“I feel sad, angry, and not cheerful because Trump is going to take us to Mexico, but I’m going to stay with no one. I would not like it in Mexico, because I don’t speak Spanish.”

Ivonne still isn’t scared. Instead she decided to get prepared by learning her rights with the help of community groups. She can now rattle off her rights and her plans if she is arrested:

“Always see who is knocking, and don’t open your door. Stay calm and not respond to anything. If they get you in the streets, remain silent. They’ve been giving cards saying you cannot give your name and have the right to remain silent. And they also tell me to prepare my birth certificate, my consulate registration, my passport. That my daughter has her papers together with mine. To have a plan in case I get taken, what would happen with my daughter … For me, being a migrant, these are the things that I have to know and learn.”

Ivonne sees the impact the new president has had and finds the silver lining to so many people facing the same problem — both citizens and immigrants in Philadelphia are uniting to support people in her position:

“I see the positive sides. The communities and associations are focusing on informing us more and that people are having a response. …There’s people who’ve been trying to inform us, take care of us, making a sanctuary.”

About one-in-four U.S. immigrants are unauthorized

Among unauthorized immigrants, a decline from Mexico but rise from elsewhere since 2009

Hispanics split in their concern over deportation

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