Jennifer Madrid is a Boston College senior who will be receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology this coming May. Jennifer was born and raised in East Boston, a large immigrant community. She has personal experience with immigration and un-documentation because of her parents, older brother, and extended family. She offers an insider look at what it means to be an immigrant in the United States.
Q: Could you tell me about your experience with immigration in the United States?
I was born in the United States and so was my younger brother, but my parents and older brother were not. My parents and older brother are from El Salvador, and they came to the United States to escape the war and the poverty that afflicted their family. They originally came here illegally and were undocumented. Eventually, my father was able to get a work permit under TPS. TPS allowed them a pathway to residency and citizenship. My older brother is still not a citizen. I also have uncles and aunts who are living undocumented in Florida. Having family that are not legal citizens is something that affects my life every day, and it is something that I have to think about. Especially since Trump has been elected, I have become more worried about my undocumented family. Although my brother has his green card, I would feel so much more comfortable if he went for the citizenship test. I’ve been talking about it with my parents and they have been encouraging him to take it before it’s too late. The new presidency is very scary for immigrant families because we are worried about having our family separated. We are worried that our family members will return to the poverty and violence. There is a lot of uncertainty during these times.
Q: East Boston has a very large immigrant community. Could you tell me how growing up in this community has shaped who you are today?
It has shaped me in many ways, but I didn’t realize it until I came to Boston College. When I came to BC I felt really removed from the community because people look at you like you’re an immigrant and a minority. I have even had professors ask me if English was my native language because I speak with an accent. Little things like this add up and you realize how different you are. But I also learned to appreciate where I come from and have become passionate about the plight of all immigrants, not just those from Latin America. For example, on Facebook, there is a discussion page for residents of East Boston. Many immigrants use it as a vehicle to express their fears. I have learned that all immigrants have similar fears, and they are all chasing the American dream when they come here. So coming from an immigrant community has allowed me to be more sensitive to those who are most ridiculed by society.
Q: Did you see any opposition in East Boston this weekend to Trump’s executive order on immigration?
Well, there were the protests at Logan Airport, which is only five minutes from my house. This was a great display of solidarity with the immigrant community. It restored my faith that there are so many people who are willing to fight for the rights of immigrants. I also know that when Trump signed the executive order on immigration that sought to crack down on undocumented immigrants there were protests in East Boston. The purpose was primarily educational and they really wanted to have the non-immigrant community think about the importance of immigration in American history and the importance of immigrants in American culture. There is a lot of fear right now in East Boston and across the United States because there are many people here without green cards and visas. On the East Boston discussion page, immigrants are posting in Spanish, ‘I belong here. We all belong here. We need to stay strong.’ Of course, people are upset about what Trump is doing, but they are more concerned about standing together in these uncertain times. It has become a waiting game, and people are wondering will I be next.
Q: What did you think of Mayor Martin “Marty” Walsh’s response to the executive order?
It gave me a sense of calmness to know that myself and my family are living in such an accepting city with people who are willing to fight for the rights of immigrants. I even showed the story to my parents because even though they are fortunate enough to be legal citizens, some of their siblings are not. We haven’t seen this type of support in Florida where some of my undocumented family members reside. It gives me a sense that my friends, neighbors, and my family in East Boston will be protected.
Q: In the executive order, President Trump stated that illegal immigrants posed a “significant threat to national security and public safety in the United States.” How harmful is this type of rhetoric?
It is not right. I’m really upset with the executive order because I believe it is perpetuating false stereotypes about the immigrant community. Not all illegal immigrants come here to commit crime, they come here to work and to escape the violence of their homeland. My parents came here illegally to escape the war in El Salvador and the extreme poverty they lived in. They left for the American dream. The dream that drove millions of immigrants to come to America before them.
Q: Could you tell me what the slogan “Un Día sin inmigrantes” means to you?
America wouldn’t be America without immigrants. Nearly every American family is here because of immigration. East Boston, for example, would be nearly empty because it is made up of mostly immigrants. Almost all the stores and businesses in the area are owned and employed by immigrants. We are a vital part of what makes America, America.