Frederick News-Post reporter Nancy Lavin interviewed three undocumented immigrants who live in Frederick. The interviews, conducted through an interpreter, are intended to highlight their experiences in light of local, state and nationwide discussion about immigration enforcement. The people are only identified by their first names as a condition of the interviews. These are their stories.
Seeking refuge from violence
In her native Guatemala, Lidia was aboard a local transit bus when a group of gang members ambushed the bus and killed the driver.
Bus driver killings had become a common occurrence there, often used by local gang members as a form of extortion. But it was the first time Lidia had been a passenger on one of the targeted buses. She was seated directly beside the bus aide, who was also killed.
Lidia said she had a nervous breakdown. She feared the gang members would hunt her down and kill her, too, because she saw the crime.
So she fled, taking her baby, who was 8 months old, with her as she traveled north toward the United States. She had considered applying for a visa, but when the "trauma" happened, she didn't want to wait.
When she crossed the border, she was caught and detained for a few days before federal officials released her. That was in November 2014.
Awaiting the court hearings that will determine if she gets deported, Lidia has remained in the U.S. She's built a life in Frederick, where she lives with her husband and son, who just turned 3. She lives a normal Frederick life, shopping in local stores and seeing local doctors. She takes nightly classes to improve her English.
Her biggest wish, she said, is to become a legal resident, improve her English and find work as a nurse, which was her job in Guatemala.
She's afraid she'll be deported, a fear that intensified with the 2016 election cycle and new president.
But even recent anti-immigrant comments and policy proposals aren't enough to make her consider returning to Guatemala, an environment far worse than anything she's faced here.
Reuniting with family
Isabel entered the U.S. six months ago with a tourist visa secured in her native Costa Rica. But the visa has expired, and she's still in Frederick, where she lives with her daughter.
Her daughter immigrated to the United States first; Isabel followed. Isabel was diagnosed with breast cancer, and hoped her daughter could help care for her if they were together again.
Since moving to Frederick, she's found work in child care and gets medical treatment through a local foundation that offers health services. She also recently started taking English classes.
Her daughter, who taught social studies in Costa Rica, now works cleaning houses.
They both envisioned a better life in America, but have found it hard to make that dream a reality. It's hard to find work, Isabel explained.
She also disagreed with perceptions that immigrants take jobs away from Americans. Immigrants are hard workers, too, she said, and they're often willing to do dirty jobs that Americans won't — cleaning houses, for example.
Both she and her daughter plan to apply for citizenship, but haven't yet.
She was unaware that Frederick County, through the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, has partnered with the federal government on immigration enforcement through the 287(g) program. Trained deputies and correctional officers perform certain functions of immigration enforcement with oversight from the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Isabel hoped that as long as she was careful— avoiding anything that would attract law enforcement's attention — she could avoid deportation. Asked if she was afraid, she answered in a single word: yes.
Pursuing the American dream
Alan had no documentation when he crossed the border from his native Mexico into the U.S., but he was not caught. He's remained under the radar of federal immigration officers and local law enforcement since he moved to Frederick three years ago.
He came in pursuit of the American dream: a better job, education and more opportunities.
Alan has learned enough English to speak conversationally, enough to get by in his job in landscape and construction. Many of his co-workers are also Spanish-speaking immigrants, which helps, he said.
His boss knows he's undocumented, but has supported him. Alan works hard, as do his immigrant co-workers. But the American workers do, too, he said.
He doesn't want to be deported, but he isn't too worried about it happening. He noted that there are many other undocumented immigrants living in Frederick.
He still is cautious, though, especially when driving. He knew of Frederick's participation in federal immigration enforcement, and doesn't want a traffic stop to lead to his deportation.
The longer he's stayed here, the harder it has become to even consider what life would be like if he was forced to return to Mexico, where corruption and gang violence abound.
A few times in Frederick, he has felt discrimination because of how he looks, and the language he speaks.
He recounted a trip to McDonald's with a friend, a fellow Hispanic immigrant. The cashier walked away, refusing to take their order.
His friend called after the cashier in English. Alan smiled as he recalled the shock on the employee's face at hearing his friend's perfect English. They were able to order after all.