As thousands of revelers dispersed after the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Raleigh, a small group of immigrants who lack legal status spoke at a rally to convince the nation’s leaders to welcome them to the melting pot, too.
“We gather here because March is national coming out of the shadows month for the immigrant community,” said Jackie Lyndon, an organizer for NC Dream Team and Alerta Migratoria NC, two groups that serve as a resource for immigrants and refugees.
Roughly 35 people turned out for the rally at the northeast corner of the State Capitol grounds. They held signs such as “No Human Being is Illegal,” and chanted “Undocumented, Unafraid!”
There are roughly 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States, and a path to citizenship for many of them remains elusive. Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency has prompted growing fears of mass deportations and abusive behavior from immigration opponents.
Alondra Pahuamba, 21, described in an interview how her mother carried her by foot across the border into Texas when she was 4 months old. She, her mother and her brother rejoined her father in Franklin County, and the parents worked multiple jobs in construction and services such as dry cleaning to build a life for themselves, just like millions of other immigrants.
But when the family pulled up to a stop sign at a Raleigh intersection roughly a year ago, a middle-aged driver next to them shouted, “‘You guys go back to Mexico, you guys don’t belong here,’ ” she said, her voice shaking. “And just imagine, we didn’t do anything wrong. We haven’t done anything wrong to affect anybody, and just to have somebody come up to us with that kind of nerve is horrible.”
“I’m afraid everything we have worked for here will end,” Pahuamba said.
Michelle Valladarez, 23, of Zebulon, came to the United States from Honduras when she was 9 years old. She told the gathering how she tried to hide her undocumented status as a student in Nash County, but eventually it got out. She had joined the junior ROTC program there and had wanted to go into the military upon graduation.
“My status does not make me a bad person,” Valladarez said. “It does bring a lot of obstacles. For example, I’m obviously not in the military. I was unable to join. That was something that was really, really hard for me to deal with.”
Valladarez now works as a paralegal for a Raleigh law firm.
“If you have kids or friends or family that are undocumented, showing them emotional and moral support I think is the most important thing,” she said. “Sometimes there’s really not much else we can do, but you won’t believe the difference it makes to someone by saying, ‘I’m here.’ ”
Chelsea Earles, 45, of Durham, brought her 9-year-old daughter, Jess, to the rally and held up a sign that said “Out of the Shadows and Into the Streets.”
She said all should share the fear of immigrants living here illegally, given what she has heard from Trump on the campaign trail and in his first 50 days in office.
“We live increasingly in a police state,” she said. “And that affects everyone, not just the people who are targeted.”