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undocumented

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents making arrest in Dearborn.
U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT

Miguel and Angel are brothers and they pretty much disagree on everything: TV shows, music, games, even the way they dress. But that stuff’s all pretty minor compared to the big disagreement they have over where they should go if their mom is deported back to Mexico.

Miguel is 14-years old and a proud mama’s boy. He says he never wants to separate from his mom and will go with her to Mexico even though he’s only visited there once, when he was three.

Big brother Angel, who's 15, says he wants to stay here in the U.S. and finish studying.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Donald Trump made a lot of campaign promises on his long path toward the presidency. But one of his signature issues from the very beginning was immigration. Trump has said repeatedly he plans to deport every one of the estimated 11 million people living without papers in the United States. 

flickr user fleshmanpix

On a brightly-lit stage inside a massive convention hall in downtown Houston, Texas, Ainslya Charlton made her introduction.

"You can call me Ace," she said, as her friends cheered. 

Out in the audience, away from the lights, were of nearly 1,000 people assembled for what was billed as the nation’s largest-ever gathering of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

three women and one man with microphone
April Van Buren / Michigan Radio

That's the question we explored at our latest State of Opportunity live event. 

We had a full house at the Cook Library Center in Grand Rapids on Thursday for "Stories From the Shadows." The evening included personal stories from undocumented immigrants living in Grand Rapids as well as a panel discussion about the most pressing issues facing that community.  

State of Opportunity reporter Dustin Dwyer moderated the conversation with our three panelists: 

Families caught in middle of "broken" immigration system

Aug 10, 2016
woman in blue shirt
Courtesy of Susan Reed

Politicians proclaim it. People argue about it. We hear it often:  "Our immigration system is broken."

But what exactly does that mean?

That’s a tough question to answer.

The U.S. immigration system is a complex and often confusing web of policies. Those policies touch everyone from the migrant farm worker to international Ph.D students. For years now, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have called for an overhaul of our immigration system.

Five undocumented workers from Kim's Garden were living in the basement of the owner's home when they were killed in a house fire.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

In January of 2016, a house fire killed five young men in the basement of a Novi home owned by Roger Tam and Ada Lei. They were later found to be undocumented workers from Mexico who were living there while employed at the couple's Chinese restaurant, Kim's Garden.

Two undocumented students discuss their diverging fates

Aug 10, 2016

Two young immigrants in Michigan caught in the middle of an immigration stalemate are Daniel Lopez and Sendy Lopez.

The two friends are not related. Daniel came to the United States from Guatemala when he was seven. Thanks to the 2012 executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Daniel is now among some 700,000 young people who are protected from being deported.

woman speaks in front of crowd
Courtesy of Sarahi Nieves

The following is a transcript of the State of Opportunity documentary Out From the Shadows: Living Undocumented, which you can hear at 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. today.

Sarahi Nieves’ parents brought her to the U.S. when she was 7. She didn’t have papers, but she grew up here. Then she had a son, a U.S. citizen. And she had to explain what it means to be undocumented in America.

“How can you tell a four-year-old, if we don’t do this, if we don’t go through this, we might be taken apart?” she said.


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Right now, somewhere around 11 million people are living "illegal" lives in the United States. That's close to one out of every 30 people in this country, going about their daily business under the threat of deportation. Many have lived in the United States for years, even decades. Many came to the United States at such a young age, they don't even remember life in another country. They may consider this country home, but the paperwork doesn't. The law doesn't. 

These parts you already know. 

But how did we get to this point? 

Tomorrow, we'll air our latest State of Opportunity documentary, Out From the Shadows, which follows the lives of undocumented families in Michigan. But we also spent time looking at the history of immigration law in the United States, to try to better understand how the laws have changed over time, and how so many people became excluded. 

And it's a fascinating history.