By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
"But I think the mistake a lot of people make is that they generalize and say that all immigrants coming here are a strain on the state. Well, a lot of us are paying taxes and do not require federal money. A lot of us are just working and are solid people. The opposition doesn't realize that there are people here like me who came here at a young age, we didn't have an option, and we're educated and we're trying to make it here in the country where we were brought up."
Texas A&M student Walter Sosa was standing around with friends outside of Thompson Hall one morning after class when a horde of federal immigration agents stormed towards him. According to the Bryan-College Station Eagle, the officers searched Sosa, handcuffed him and placed him in an unmarked car. From there, they made the nearly two-hour drive south to Houston, where Sosa was locked up inside an immigration detention center.
Sosa came to Houston from Guatemala with his parents when he was 5. He was an honors student in high school and a college senior majoring in engineering technology when he was hauled off campus and detained. Earlier that same October morning in 2007, immigration officers also took Sosa's parents into custody. Officials told them that their visitor's visa had long expired and they were being deported. Luckily, for Sosa, the judge was lenient and told Sosa he was allowed to stay until he graduated before he would be deported to Guatemala.
Sosa's attorney, Elise Wilkinson, says Sosa does not want to comment because he has gotten a rare and lucky break from the judge and does not want to provoke the situation or place himself in danger of being threatened or harmed by anti-immigration radicals.
It is the same fear of harm or harassment that prompts some of the students interviewed by the Press to use assumed names.
"Ricky" was born in Mexico City and illegally entered the United States when he was 13. It was July Fourth the day he crossed the border. Four years later, he graduated from a Houston area high school in the top 15 percent of his class and is now a year away from graduating from the University of Houston with a degree in biology. He hopes to attend medical school.
Ricky is a skinny ghost of a young man with black hair and a thin mustache that is still in its infancy. He speaks softly, almost in a whisper, and seems to study the floor when he talks, almost never looking up at the person across from him.
But Ricky's withdrawn nature doesn't come from a nightmarish home life. It is the product of living on the lam as an illegal immigrant.
"I want to stay under the radar because I don't want to attract trouble or attention," Ricky quietly says. "It's better to just stay safe."
Ricky doesn't have a criminal record and under normal circumstances would have no reason to worry about the basic activities that most people take for granted — something as simple as driving to school. But as an illegal immigrant, Ricky lives in fear.
Several years ago, Ricky says, police pulled his brother over for having a busted taillight on his car. He did not have a license, and the police took him to jail. Luckily, says Ricky, his brother was freed the next morning, just missing immigration officials who check the jails for illegal immigrants to detain and deport.
"The fear of being caught and deported is there every hour of every day," says Ricky, "but it's something that you have to get used to so you can live your life. You have to block it out. There are constantly little reminders, like every time you see a cop drive by, and you always have to make sure you're doing everything right, but you have to be positive somehow. I mean, it does keep you on track and focused on what you have to do, like going to school and staying in line with the law."
Like many undocumented immigrants, Erika pays her taxes with what's called an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. The IRS gives them to people who are required to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but who do not have, and are not eligible to obtain, a Social Security number.
"Many illegal immigrants choose not to pay their taxes," says Erika, "but I think that by paying your taxes and not getting in trouble and not committing any crimes, you're acting as a citizen of the state. You're doing as much as you can so that if an amnesty occurs, you have proof you've paid your taxes and that goes a long way."
Looking back, Erika says she almost feels foolish for being quixotic as a kid growing up in Houston.
"When I was working and saving for college," she says, "I really thought something was going to happen for me. I did get to college, but I pictured my life a lot differently. I tell all my friends who are citizens, 'You don't know how lucky you are.' I've struggled a lot, and at 25 I was really hoping that by now I would have accomplished so much more."