Neither Juan Avalos nor Luna Flores slept all night. On Monday morning, they wrote a lawyer's phone number on their arms, just in case. Then they drove to the one place in Portland that scares them most -- an Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office.
While other undocumented immigrants across the country had taken to staying indoors after President Donald Trump promised to ramp up deportations, Avalos and Flores planned to meet their fears head-on.
"My parents told me, 'Don't go out,'" said Avalos, a 21-year-old college student. "I understand they worry about me. But I told them that if I don't do it, no one is going to step up to do it. This is my calling to help my community."
He and Flores, a 46-year-old woman who said she fled Mexico after being kidnapped, were among eight undocumented Latinos who spoke Monday at a South Waterfront rally outside the nondescript, tan brick building that includes holding cells for undocumented immigrants.Undocumented college student speaks at ICE
Avalos had told his story before. A few months ago, he had spoken to a group at Portland Community College. But that was before Trump had announced he would not follow President Barack Obama's lead in prioritizing deportations of criminals. The new president hoped to deport all immigrants in the country illegally, no matter if their records were otherwise perfect.
"It's been very frustrating because it's people like me they're arresting now," Avalos said. "They're just trying to live their lives, be successful."
Avalos came to Oregon from Guanajuato, Mexico, when he was a child. His parents went first. They had little opportunity for success in the central Mexican state, Avalos said, so they moved to the Portland area to find work.
He spent seven years without them. His grandparents raised him, but his own prospects were even dimmer, he said. An education was impossible, he said. Only those born rich were able to study in reputable schools. And gangs ruled his hometown. Several of his friends died before he ever became a teenager.
When Avalos was 12, he crossed the border and traveled north to live with his parents.
"Since then, I've felt like this is my home," he said. "This is where I grew up. This is where I accomplished many of my dreams."
But, Avalos said, there is still so much he wants to do. He's good with his hands and loves creative problem solving. When he graduated from Sunset High School in 2014, he knew exactly the career he wanted -- mechanical engineer.
Because he's undocumented, he doesn't qualify for any financial aid. Instead, he works seven hours a day at an auto body shop. He uses the money to pay for two classes at Portland Community College.
He tries not to think about deportation, he said. He worries about taking care of his younger brothers, about finding the money to pay for classes that will lead to a career.
After Trump took office, promising greater crackdowns on illegal immigration, Avalos couldn't help but worry.
"It's overwhelming," he said. "But I can't stay quiet. If I stay quiet, it will get to me more."
Flores patted his shoulder as Avalos told his story. At 46, she no longer dreams the way he does. She must stay in the United States, she said, to survive.Undocumented woman speaks outside ICE office
As a young adult in Mexico City, Flores found work fixing computers. She was good at it, she said, but life there was too dangerous. Her car was stolen twice. And, she said, she was kidnapped once.
"Just for a few hours," she said. "They take your bank card and your PIN number and eventually let you go."
She secured a work visa to attend a computer fair in the United States. She flew to Texas in 2001. When her visa lapsed a few years later, she did not return to Mexico.
By then, she had moved to Portland and fallen in love with a woman. Together, they were raising a daughter. Living openly as a lesbian back home, she said, would make her a target for violence and kidnapping.
Because she doesn't have work permits, she no longer fixes computers. Instead, she volunteers at a radio station. She helps out at her church, she said, and nearby library branches. She's never racked up so much as a parking ticket, she said.
"We are not criminals," she said. "We are not terrorists. They are looking at the wrong frontier.
We are hard-working people. We're just trying to achieve the American dream."
Monday, Flores and Avalos shivered in the rain before a crowd of more than 100. Both spoke in Spanish as they recounted their journeys. The Oregonian/OregonLive is identifying them by name because they wanted to go public.
Preachers and white supporters have held press conferences and rallies in the days since Trump took office. Avalos and Flores were part of a group that believed undocumented people should be the leaders -- not just the subjects -- of those rallies.
They stood on a bench and spoke for an hour. Flores wiped away another undocumented immigrant's tears as the young woman told the crowd she had lost most of her family to deportation. Her father disappeared during the work day. Her brother was detained because he didn't have a driver's license.
The activists faced the headquarters and chanted. The building had no signs proclaiming its business, only a lone guard looking back at the crowd.
No one emerged to detain the undocumented. As the rally wound down, Avalos flashed a smile of pure, if temporary, relief. For the day, at least, he wouldn't need the lawyer's number still written on his arm.
-- Casey Parks
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