VIANEY LOPEZ, 29
Born in rural outskirts of Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico
Came to Oxnard undocumented at 4 years old in 1991
Undocumented from 1991 to 1992
Green card through father sponsor in 1992
U.S. citizen in 2001
B.S. in business at Loyola Marymount University
Master’s in public policy at Pepperdine University
District director for Assemblywoman Monique Limon, D-Santa Barbara
School board member at Hueneme Elementary School District
My dad began coming to the U.S. under the Bracero Program in the 1960s. When that program ended, my dad would cross the border undocumented. He would come to the U.S. for about three years, sending money back for my mom and the rest of my siblings. My older brothers and sisters wouldn’t see my dad for three years at a time because it was such a process to cross the border; it cost money and the trek was difficult. It was always a risk crossing and possibly getting caught by Border Patrol.
When my older sisters and brothers came to the U.S., my mom had myself, my 1.5-year older sister and one younger brother in Mexico (11 children total). It was my sisters who told my dad while they were in the U.S. that he needed to make a decision, to either bring us (the rest of his family) to the U.S. or go back to Mexico because they had spent a large part of their lives without my dad present (since he was working in the U.S.) and they didn’t want the youngest ones to grow up without a dad like they had. I never knew this; this is what was the deciding factor in the rest of the family coming to the U.S.
My dad filed immigration forms around 1989 for my mom and younger siblings. My dad got his green card through Reagan’s Amnesty program. An aunt had helped to file the paperwork and was told by INS that it would take years for us to get through the process. So my dad and older sisters decided that we would come to the U.S. because it would be easier to stay together than to be left in Mexico for my mom to take care of us alone. My oldest sister was working two jobs along with my dad to raise the money for the rest of us to cross with a “coyote.”
When the time came, we took a bus to Guadalajara, Jalisco, and then a flight to Tijuana. We spent one night in Tijuana, and around 1 a.m. the following day we were picked up by the coyote to go to the border to cross. We had to wait for the Border Patrol to move from the area as they changed shifts; it was at a distance from the official border crossing in San Ysidro. My older sister and I were with my dad and another relative while my mom, younger brother and another sister crossed in a different location. There were many other people doing the same, waiting for the chance to run across. We had to be very quiet while we waited so that Border Patrol wouldn’t hear us. And when Border Patrol agents moved, we had to run across, at times, walking and because I was little, my dad would carry me. The coyote told my dad to leave me and my sister with him, that he would take us across alone, and my dad refused to leave us. We eventually made our way across; it wasn’t a long distance but running and walking was tiring for me and my sister and for my dad carrying us. My older sister and brother-in-law met us on the other side in cars near the border, crossing where they constantly had to move until we came across and found them.
As an adult, as someone who has been more fortunate than many other immigrants, I can’t say that I have struggled. Seeing what has been happening nationally and locally, hearing of many people’s personal stories and their immigration statuses, I have been extremely fortunate and I am grateful for the luck or timing of the immigration process for me and my family.
Through Future Leaders of America, I had the opportunity to work for Congresswoman Lois Capps within a year after I graduated from college. After I started working for Rep. Capps in 2010 and while I was attending graduate school my path began shaping more. I completed my master’s degree in public policy at Pepperdine University in 2012, and just a few months after that, I decided to run for the Hueneme Elementary School District Board. I am now serving my second term on the school board and through my work experience with Rep. Capps, I now have the opportunity to work for another elected official, Assemblymember Monique Limón, as district director.
Before I came to the U.S., I knew nothing about immigration. I can’t imagine what many young people and families have gone through and are going through because of this one term. I don’t think immigration has changed as much as the rhetoric, which makes it seem worse. Families are still coming to the U.S., families are still being separated, and families are still in need of a better life with better opportunities. I think it is terrible that some non-immigrants discriminate against those who came to the U.S., whether it was legal or not.
There are many reasons why some people are unable to go through the U.S. immigration process and why they get tired of waiting for the process to work. Making the decision to leave their country, knowing the risks they are taking to cross the border without documentation, is not easy. Those who had the opportunity to go through the legal process, no matter how long it was, are fortunate. They, now, don’t have anything to worry about. But those people who came into the U.S. without legal documentation are at a great disadvantage. They may be able to live and work, but there are so many risks they have taken. For them, there’s so much uncertainty and their residence in the U.S. is not guaranteed, especially with the actions of the president’s administration, not just today but for many years. It’s not easy living in fear.