When Rosemary Flores is done setting up her project, her hope is that undocumented immigrants won’t have to hide alone in the darkness.
Amid discussions of national comprehensive immigration reform, Flores is creating an organization, Coming Out of the Shadows, to collect stories of immigrants to present to Congress.
“We have heard of families scared to go to the store because they fear deportation,” she said. “Coming Out of the Shadows will help with that fear and make them feel more comfortable.”
The organization is also expected to connect undocumented people with immigration needs, whether it’s finding places to learn English, tutoring for GED classes or where to fill out paperwork.
“They need to know they have rights, even as undocumented,” Flores said.
In its infancy, the group is videotaping stories of people throughout the valley to compile for lawmakers to see.
The group feels if members of Congress can put a face to the issue, they might be more inclined to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
“We want them to understand what families are going through,” Flores said.
The Senate passed legislation in a 68-32 vote on June 27 that would open the pathway to citizenship to millions of immigrants. The bill is expected to head to the House.
The stories feature various circumstances from people across the valley.
With tears in her eyes, Henderson resident Karina Sanchez described the hardest year of her life being away from her two children and her husband.
For the family, immigration reform means no more separating families.
Sanchez and Marco Chavez, who live in Henderson, have been married 10 years.
Sanchez was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. when she was 12. She moved to Las Vegas in 2013 and met Chavez, who was born in Los Angeles but spent most of his life in Las Vegas.
Sanchez was undocumented but decided she could fill out the correct paperwork to obtain citizenship after she got married. However, filling out the paperwork kept getting pushed back.
When she went to the immigration office, she found that in order for everything to be processed, she must return to Mexico.
“I cried and cried,” she said. “I didn’t want to do it.”
Faced with the decision to stay in the country undocumented or return to Mexico so she could finally obtain citizenship, Sanchez decided to go.
“I had no idea it would take a year,” she said.
Being from Mexico, Sanchez was supposed to have family in the area.
“Even though I supposedly had family there, I didn’t know them,” she said. “I hadn’t been back in 20 years. I was a stranger to them.”
During the year, Chavez had a herniated disk that caused him to go on sick leave, further complicating the situation.
At one point, not seeing her story ending pleasantly, Sanchez contemplated committing suicide.
The thought of permanently being separated was too much to handle. But Sanchez received her visa and returned home in August 2012.
The couple are sharing their story because they don’t want other people to feel alone.
They feel if lawmakers could imagine what it’s like to be separated from family members, maybe they would be more eager to vote for reform.
For Juan Salazar, 20, immigration reform means being able to pursue the American dream.
“I want to have my own business,” he said.
Salazar, a North Las Vegas resident, is a DREAMer — a term for an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the U.S. while younger than 18.
“I came here when I was 7,” he said. “My parents just wanted a better future for us.”
From the get-go, Salazar faced opposition.
Trying to get into school was his first obstacle.
“They wouldn’t admit us without vaccinations,” he said.
Finally, the family managed to get the children admitted despite no access to health care.
Because Salazar was still learning English, he was being teased by students.
“They didn’t think I knew what they were saying,” he said. “But I understood.”
Struggling financially has been a recurring theme for his family throughout Salazar’s life.
To make ends meet, his father took on whatever jobs he could to support the family.
When he was old enough, Salazar took on jobs. But once employers found out he was undocumented, he had to leave.
“And I was always a hard worker in that time,” he said.
Any spare money the family saved was invested it into Salazar’s education so he could attend classes at the College of Southern Nevada. But living in the shadows and dealing with the name calling and racist remarks took its toll.
Every time an article on immigration reform surfaces or the topic is brought up, Salazar cringes at the reaction of people.
“They call us a bunch of rats,” he said. “They call us lazy. They tell me to come back to where I came from, but I grew up here.”
With Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive order, President Barack Obama announced that stops deportation for undocumented immigrants who were brought to America before they were 16, Salazar said he has a little relief.
“Once I got my permit, all my family started crying,” he said.
But even with relief for himself, it would not be worth it knowing his parents could still be deported.
Salazar wants immigration reform because he doesn’t believe people should be separating families.
He also wants it because he knows his family deserves basic human respect that they currently aren’t receiving.
“My dad would be on a job and the boss would ask him to tie his shoes,” he said.
The only reason people are disrespectful to undocumented workers, he said, is because they think they can get away with it.
Salazar found out about Coming Out of the Shadows through other DREAMers and decided to contribute his story.
“I hope others hear this story and feel motivated,” he said. “I hope others hear it and know they aren’t alone.”
Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5201.