Moving deeper into Arizona’s shadows

The day Arizona’s governor signed the strictest immigration law in the country -- tasking police with checking the immigration status of those they stop and suspect to be in the country illegally -- Maria thought it might be the last straw for her family.

For six years Maria, a U.S. citizen, and her husband, Salvador, who is in the country illegally, have tried to make sure he isn’t caught up in a raid or sweep or traffic enforcement operation.A?A To avoid his deportation, the couple takes precautions that, when synthesized, go something like this:

Avoid driving at night. Avoid unnecessary trips -- grocery shopping once a week is best.

Stay home. Stay and care for the garden. Enjoy the blueberry bushes and the apricot trees, and mow the lawn. Keep it nice. Try to deflect, as much as possible, their 4-year-old daughter’s questions about going to Disneyland.


As a citizen, Maria, 24, doesn’t worry about being stopped when she’s alone or with her daughter Carina. But her concern for Salvador, 29, has grown over the years, especially after Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio began using his department to enforce federal immigration laws. When the program was essentially adopted on a statewide level, one of Maria’s aunts considered canceling her daughter’s 8th birthday party to avoid attracting attention.

Other friends and relatives -- often mixed families of citizens and illegal immigrants -- decided to put off repairs to their homes to save money in case a family member got deported. Like many of them, Maria wondered: Is it time to leave Arizona?

Dreams vs. realities

Maria and Salvador met as teenagers. In the evenings Maria played basketball at the middle school where Salvador took English classes. (They asked that their full names not be used because of his status.) She never thought to ask about his legal situation when they started dating, and by the time she learned he’d crossed the border illegally when he was 17, they’d already made plans for a life together.


Maria, who came to the U.S. legally when she was 6, became a citizen at 18, thinking Salvador would easily obtain legal status once they were married. They wed that year at a Phoenix courthouse, but set a date for a wedding a year later at El Santuario del Senor de La Piedad, a centuries-old Catholic church that towers over their shared hometown in La Piedad, in the Mexican state of Michoacan.

But they never made it.

Soon after they were married, they met with an immigration attorney who told them Salvador would have to return to Mexico to apply for residency. If he did, the attorney said, it was possible he’d be barred from the U.S. for 10 years.

They decided they couldn’t risk such a separation. Two years later, Carina was born. The two of them, newborn in tow, realized Salvador’s legal status was probably not going to change, and they went about putting down roots.

Maria settled into her job as a teacher’s assistant in a class for severely autistic preschoolers. Salvador worked maintenance at a golf course, and he got out early enough to pick up his daughter from day care. In January, they had a church wedding at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Parish in north Phoenix. Carina carried her mother’s train.

In the meantime, Arizona began taking steps to make it an inhospitable state for those who came to the country illegally: the county sheriff dispatched his deputies to search for illegal immigrants, a law was passed to bar such immigrants from receiving government services and the state sought to shut down businesses that hired illegal workers.

Maria and Salvador learned to live, somewhat, with the worry.

When Salvador leaves for work in the morning, Maria gives him a clean set of clothes to change into for the drive home so he won’t look like a laborer. When he has a weekend shift and can’t travel with his usual carpool, Maria wakes up before he leaves at 4:30 a.m., and together they pray that he comes back.


The rules for driving are clear: Check the truck -- make sure the signals and lights work. A friend was once pulled over by deputies for having a broken light on his license plate. He was deported shortly after.

Drive carefully: use turn signals, make complete stops. Don’t put unnecessary adornments on the truck. Never exceed the speed limit.

In August, they bought their first home, a three-bedroom bank-owned fixer-upper. They spent much of their time mending it and caring for the huge yard, with its fruit trees and flowers. When Salvador’s father died this year, Salvador couldn’t attend the funeral. So they planted an apricot tree in his honor.

Maria became involved in a church group that advocates for a variety of causes, such as education and immigrant rights. The information she gets at immigrant rights sessions with the Valley Interfaith Project, she says, helps her when she is overwhelmed by anxiety.

Three months ago, Maria and Salvador learned she was pregnant. They are expecting a sister for Carina in July.

SB 1070 hits

It was just after 1:30 on April 23, and Maria was at work when she got a text message from her mother: Gov. Jan Brewer had signed SB 1070 into law. She ran through scenarios in her mind: We’ll move to California, she thought. We’ll rent our house and get an apartment. My family in California can help Salvador get a job.

At home, she called an uncle, who lives in Armona, a tiny Central Valley town in Kings County. He’d heard the news, he said, and was prepared for her and her family to stay at his home until they were settled.


When Salvador came home, Maria told him of her plans. His response was clear and unhesitant. He has a good job here, he said. Who knows if he could get one in California? What if they were stopped by sheriff’s deputies on the way out of town? What if he were put in a detention facility far from home?

After a few days, Maria decided she agreed with her husband. Leaving would be like running away from her home, she said, and she doesn’t want to do that.

They’ve decided to stay in Arizona and wait it out, taking precautions as always.

The aunt who was planning her daughter’s birthday party canceled it. And though Maria knows the law isn’t scheduled to go into effect until late July, she still finds herself switching to English when she and her husband walk past police officers. Salvador’s English is limited, so he just nods as she speaks.

Mostly, they stay home more now, Maria says. And when the worry becomes overwhelming, she goes out to the garden and trims the hedges.