Undocumented immigrants come out of the shadows

(CNN)Brenda Lira, 21, wondered whether her closest friends would turn their backs on her.

It was awkward revealing the truth to them, she said. Filled with embarrassment and shame, Lira confessed this week to being an undocumented immigrant.
“I basically told them my whole story,” said Lira, a Tennessee resident who crossed the border from Mexico illegally with her parents when she was 2 years old.
    “My biggest fear was (my friends) not wanting to know me anymore but they’re very supportive. They love me and I love them back.”
    Across America, some of the country’s more than 11 million undocumented immigrants are emerging from the shadows. They’re declaring their legal status to friendsand coworkers. They’re joining a struggle for immigrant rights, educating others like them and risking arrest and deportation by joining streets protests and speaking at news conferences.
    Some have strong words for those who see them as criminals worthy of immediate deportation. They were insulted when Donald Trump called some Mexican immigrants “rapists” as he launched his presidential campaign at Trump Tower in New York. They want Americans to view them as neighbors who harbor dreams not far removed from other generations of newcomers to the United States.
    “I’ve been living in fear, not only for myself but for my family, for people that I know,” Lira said.
    “Fear that my parents will be ripped away from me. That I’ll be ripped away from them. That I’ll be ripped away from the land that I called home for the last 19 years.”

    ‘I am the definition of being American’

    Since his inauguration in January, President Trump’s immigration crackdown has sent waves of uncertainty through immigrant communities. But some undocumented immigrants have been emboldened to join efforts seeking an overhaul of the immigration system.
    “I think it’s time for us to be united, to present a strong front, to actually fight for what we want,” Lira said.
    Fueling the fear and anger is the fact that the Trump administration’s new enforcement priorities could be applied to virtually every undocumented immigrantin the United States — whereas the Obama administration had focused on serious and violent criminals.
    While the new administration has said criminals are a priority, Trump has expanded enforcement powers to potentially deport undocumented immigrants who have lived in their communities for years — and may have family members who are legal US residents or citizens.

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    “He’s coming against us, but the people, the community, they’re becoming more united in a way to come towards a plan to fight the deportations,” he said of Trump.
    In Tennessee, Lira recalled that when she was a child some friends worried about being lured into vans by kidnappers. But she was cautious for a different reason.
    “I feared white vans because it was ICE,” she said. “They’re going to take me away from my family.”
    Lira hopes to mobilize other undocumented immigrants and their children, and try to persuade those who support Trump’s tough stance. Her US-born friends have offered their support.
    “It’s time for us to come out of the shadows,” she said. “It’s time for us to stop fearing.”

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