When Ella was 12 years old, she spent three days in the desert with her mother and brother on a journey to come to the United States. When she finally arrived, she remembers jumping into her father's arms at the border.
The family made the trek – which left them abandoned, held hostage for a week, and in thousands of dollars in debt for their release – to take care of her father. He came to the U.S. years earlier to work and provide a better future for his family. However, shortly after moving to North Carolina, he lost his foot in a work-related accident.
“The scary part is that my story is one of the good stories,” she said. “There’s a lot of them that are not good. A lot of them that don’t have a good ending.”
Sixteen years later, Ella is married with two children. Her husband is an undocumented immigrant. WUNC is not using their real names in the story because they both fear deportation.
Ella said she tries to plan for the future day by day, but it’s difficult.
“Every single day it’s a struggle to even plan a vacation,” she said. “Is it worth the risk or should we stay home?”
In another part of Guilford County, Flor and Armando echo Ella’s sentiments. They’re also using pseudonyms.
Flor, like Ella, is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA is an immigration policy that allows undocumented people who came here as children to get driver's licenses, secure legal employment, and enroll in college.
Flor works in human resources. Armando is an undocumented immigrant who works in the construction industry. They’ve lived in the U.S. for nearly 20 years.
Flor came to the U.S. when she was just one year old. Armando finished high school and decided to “take control of his life” and move to the U.S.
Both agree that in Mexico, it’s hard to move forward due to nepotism and corruption.
“Even though you give it your best, even though you give it all your effort, it almost seems like you’re never going to go past a certain point,” Flor said.
Armando said because of his immigration status, he still feels constrained.
“You are invisible, I feel like I have my wings tied,” he said. “I cannot let it go. That’s the problem that I struggle with here. I cannot reach my full potential.”
It's estimated that about 340,000 undocumented people live in North Carolina. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials do not release state-level deportation numbers.
Undocumented people see media reports of ICE raids. They hear increased rhetoric from the Trump administration and they say that's led to rising anxiety.
Latino Community Coalition of Guilford County board member Addy Jeffrey said even if undocumented immigrants feel powerless, there are different things they can do to empower themselves.
“We certainly tell people to have an emergency plan,” she said. “If something would happen, have a plan so your kids know what they need to do until you’re reunited.”
But Flor doesn’t necessarily agree. She says she is wary of making a plan just yet especially because of the paper trail that comes from having a power of attorney and who it affects.
“Once that letter is made out, the person that has been given that power has the legal authority to decide on their property or their children,” she said.
Jeffrey said these this type of thinking and hesitation is part of what she calls “psychological terrorism.”
“It may not be that there is a raid on my street or anything like that, it’s just the fear that this has created.”
Another factor causing this fear in some parts of the Latino community is the relationship between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials.
Some North Carolina communities work more closely with ICE than others and some have been labeled "sanctuary cities." A sanctuary city means these cities more or less turn a blind eye to the immigration status of a person.
The Trump administration is threatening to strip these cities of critical government funding.
“We are seeing a level of fear that is unprecedented and we need to do better as a society because our country was built by immigrants from every part of the world,” Jeffrey said.
Ella works as a legal assistant in an immigration office. Her nine-year-old daughter wants to become a police officer.
She dreads having to tell her daughter about the decisions she made to live in America, even though she wants her daughter to be the best police officer she can be.
“How do I explain it to her that I’m not a criminal, that I’m not a bad person, that I needed to be there for my father, that I needed to support him?” she said. “If I had to choose, I would do it all over again. I want her to become a police officer and I want her to become the best one out there, but a police officer can take her father away.”