“Terrified but determined, 5-year-old Laura P. Minero silently repeated her new false name to herself like a soothing mantra—Linda Hernandez. Linda Hernandez. Linda Hernandez.—as the burgundy van rumbled down the dusty highway toward the border city of Tijuana, Mexico. She gulped back her fear in parched swallows, sneaking glances at the strangers in the passenger seats posing as her family, U.S. citizens risking their own safety to deliver her to her papa, who was anxiously, helplessly waiting for her and her mother in California. Penniless and desperate, he’d gone ahead first to find work and though they’d been separated for only two months, it felt like an eternity….”

Undocumented Latino Immigrants in Madison

Out of the Shadows

Madison Magazine cover story, September 2016

 

Just like with other stories I’ve written, I want to shout a caveat from the top of the Capitol dome: “THIS IS NOT THE WHOLE STORY.” This is just one brief glimpse into a massive, complex issue affecting thousands of our neighbors in different ways at different times. The people in this story don’t speak for all undocumented immigrants, nor can my story tell the full scope of the immigrant experience in Dane County. Not even close.

I’m really grateful to Mayra Medrano, Mario Garcia Sierra and Grisel Tapias, not only for connecting me with Miguel Morillo and translating, but for sharing their own personal experiences and nuanced insight to give context to what he was telling me. Their words aren’t quoted in this piece but they influenced all of it.

I didn’t realize how little I understood immigration until I tried to answer some basic questions and couldn’t. I’ve heard the same arguments as everyone else about how not to enter this country, but I’d never asked myself how to do it the “right” way before. I had no idea the wait list for proper documentation from the Mexican government was decades long. I had no idea what “proper documentation” even meant, or the myriad, mostly unattainable ways to get it. And I certainly didn’t know that, even if you’d been raised here your entire life, there’s not really a way to “make it right” without DACA (and even that has serious limitations).

I spent a lot of time with Stacy Taeuber at UW-Madison’s Immigrant Justice Clinic early on in my reporting before she took another position and moved out of state. I was particularly impressed by the law students in her care who spoke so eloquently, not necessarily about the law itself, but about the devastating impact on Wisconsin families that deportation brings. They’re doing really unique work and brought a humanizing perspective to a really misunderstood or oversimplified piece of the immigration struggle. They don’t appear in this article either but their work informed it from the start, especially the events they organized for Immigrant Justice Week.

Finally, it’s clearer to me than ever before that a deeply-rooted, Wisconsin-flavored Latino culture not only exists in Madison (apart from the topic of immigration), it is vibrant, multifaceted and, frankly, somewhat ignored. Personally, I’m going to try to pay better attention.

—Maggie Ginsberg is an award-winning freelance writer in Madison, Wisconsin

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