HOUSTON — THE birth certificates for my children, born here eight and four years ago. The receipts that prove I paid property taxes on the trailer home where we used to live. My children’s medical records. A stack of documents that show I’ve lived in Texas for more than 12 years, and that my son and daughter are United States citizens.
I keep all these papers in a drawer next to my bed, so I will have easy access to them as soon as I need them. These are the documents that were supposed to allow me to apply for a new program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans — the documents that would protect me, for a time, from deportation, and give me some relief from the constant fear that comes with life as an undocumented immigrant.
“Why do you need those papers?” my son asks me one day in January, as he watches me search through plastic bags and backpacks I’ve kept for years on the top shelf of my closet, looking for one more bill, one more certificate, one more piece of paper that might help with applications for my husband and me.
He knows I’ve kept the television tuned to Univision ever since President Obama announced his executive action in November. I listened closely as the news anchor Jorge Ramos explained the application requirements, and realized we qualified. I was watching when, two weeks ago, a federal judge here in Texas put a temporary stop to the program. Now I am waiting to see what happens next.
My son doesn’t understand why I am so anxious. He is 8 years old. He has a Social Security number and could travel out of the country if he wanted.
So I tell him: I want to be able to travel, too. I want to take him to the Rio Grande Valley, where his grandfather lives — the grandfather he has never met, because we need to pass an immigration checkpoint to get to that part of Texas. I want him to play with his abuelo under the tall palm trees that dot the landscape of that border town.
There is more, of course. I want to drive the short distance to the grocery store without worrying that the police car in the lane of traffic behind me is going to pull me over and demand documents I don’t have. I want to be able to look for a good job so that I can help provide for my family. I want to take my kids to school in the morning without worrying whether that day will be the last one I have with them.
Their childhood here in Houston is already so different from mine.
I was born and raised in Río Bravo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. I was 12 when my mother told me she couldn’t send me to school anymore. She needed me at home helping her with my siblings and keeping the house clean. When I was 17, one of my older sisters, who had already moved to Houston, invited me join her. She was 20 and asked me to take care of her baby so that she could work. Knowing there was little to lose, I crossed — without documents, but with my mother’s blessing.
I quickly realized that life as an undocumented person in the United States was not what I had imagined. Without documents, school did not make sense. The only job I could find was taking care of other people’s kids, earning me a few dollars in cash at the end of each day.
Eventually, I met my husband, also an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. He found work as a mechanic. We live with my in-laws and I currently stay home with our children. We have stitched together a beautiful family. But that’s 12 years of living cautiously, on the margins.
In November, it seemed we would be able to move, however slowly, out of those margins. We would have temporary relief. I gathered my documents together and kept them safe. We were prepared.
Then the judge put it all on hold. Everything we had been working toward — a break from life in the shadows — is now on pause, in limbo, maybe never to be a reality.
I allowed myself to feel a little disappointed and a little bit sad. But I am not going to let myself feel defeated. I am still trying to organize people to go to meetings so that they can be ready when the program moves forward.
I make phone calls, trying to get them to show up. I hear a lot of doubt. Why learn about a program that may never come to be?
I tell them what I have been telling myself: that we need to be prepared for when the good news comes. I have my documents ready, in that drawer near my bed. I’m not giving up hope.
Ehiracenia Vasquez is a member of the Texas Organizing Project, a partner of the Center for Popular Democracy. This article was translated by Mary Moreno from the Spanish.
Story originally appeared in the New York Times.