Each month, Narratively’s “People of Interest” series offers an up-close look at one New York community or subculture, from Protest People to Polyamorous People. This month’s Paperless People features a range of people affected by America’s ongoing immigration debate. Daniel Krieger visited the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, one of the largest immigrant rights groups in the city, where he caught up with our first subject.
Mauro Hernandez; 21; lance corporal in the Marine Corps; stationed in Jacksonville, North Carolina
I’m here in New York on a one-week break before I go on a nine-month deployment on a ship in the Middle East. I decided to use this break to come here with my mom and start the process to get her papers. We’ve been talking about it for a while, and today is the first step. It’s time.
Her status hasn’t changed since she crossed the border from Mexico in 1995 with my father. I was born a year later and grew up in the Bronx. My father went back to Mexico because he wanted to help out his parents, and my mom stayed and raised me for the next ten years. It was just the two of us.
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As a kid in a kid’s world, my eyes weren’t really open to what was going on. But as the years went by, I started to realize what my mom’s situation was. We went from shelter to shelter, mostly in the Bronx. My mom got help from the government because of me, so I could have a roof over my head, get a meal every day and get an education. That stopped when I turned 18.
She does pay taxes, but she doesn’t speak much English, and I always had to translate for her. Even checking mail, she would ask me to explain things to her.
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Now that I’ve joined the military and I’m doing something for my country, I see that I didn’t get here on my own. I didn’t raise and educate myself. Everything that I’ve done I owe to my mom. I owe my parents. Why shouldn’t my mom receive the document she needs to feel safe? To feel that she can experience everything that’s out there. To not be afraid of being asked if she’s a citizen or not.
It’s hard for her now that I’m living so far away. I just want her to be able to go out, to go to the movies, to relax the way any normal person would. I want her to get the same rights and have the same choices that I have. What worries me most is that I won’t be there to help her. I don’t want her to feel like she’s in prison here. I want her to be able to go to an airport and fly to Mexico to visit her parents, which she hasn’t been able to do since she came 22 years ago, and then be able to come back.
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Once we file the papers, we have to wait and see if it gets approved. It takes a while. I hear one to two years.
My dad came back about ten years ago, and he’s living with my mom in Queens. I also want to help him change his status.
When I heard about the raids, I called my mom to make sure everything was fine. It’s pretty scary for her and my father. But my mom said she doesn’t feel so threatened now because she has always followed the rules, has been a productive member of her community, and me being a Marine makes her feel safe. Anyway, there’s nothing they can do about it. They’re just going on with their lives. And I have faith that this is going to work out.
If they decide that my parents should be punished, I hope that they will also take into account that this guy who wants to sponsor his parents is also in the military. And it was with the support of my parents that I was able to join the military. When I’m out there putting my life on the line, my parents should be worried about me but they shouldn’t have to worry about being arrested. I don’t want them to be scared about whatever the government is doing to immigrants next. I’m out there serving my country, but I’m also doing it for them. It’s because of my parents that I got to where I am now, and I’ll do everything I can to keep them safe.