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Living Undocumented In Wisconsin: A Mother's Story

Undocumented immigrants face certain challenges regardless of how long they've been in the United States or their country of origin. Among them is not having the legal right to work or the ability to obtain a driver’s license.";

It's estimated that there are 86,000 undocumented residents living in Wisconsin. About one-third live in Milwaukee. The majority of undocumented residents have been here for more than a decade. They come from a variety of countries. The top three are Mexico, India and China. 

In a three-part series, WUWM is highlighting the stories of three undocumented Latino immigrants from different families to learn more about the barriers and worries they face. 

This is part one: Meet Monica Ayala Gonzalez.

Monica is from Michoacan, Mexico, a small town called Tziritzicuaro. When she was 23 years old she decided to come to the United States. She was a young mother and the economic situation in Mexico was tough. But the decision wasn't easy. Monica was forced to leave behind her 8-month-old son, Daniel. She says it was one of the most difficult things she ever had to do.

"Dejar mi hijo con mi mama. Eso es lo que más sentía. El dolor de dejarlo y saber si uno lo iba a ver o no," she says.

Monica and her husband each paid $6,000 to a coyote to smuggle them across the Arizona-Mexico border. When they got to the United States, they didn’t have anything other than the clothes on their backs. But she had a brother in Milwaukee who gave her and her husband a place to stay. Life was hard in the beginning. She and her husband worked constantly. Her first couple of jobs were as a waitress and a light assembly worker, and she worked very long and late hours.

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"De la 5:30 que salía de la casa hasta las 11 y llegaba a cocinar. A cocinar a preparar verdad. A esa hora comíamos," she says.

Monica says she'd leave the house at 5:30 a.m. and not get home until 11:00 p.m. Then she’d cook dinner and prepare lunch for the next day. She and her husband kept working hard for more than two years until they saved enough money to pay for their son Daniel to join them. He came here legally, but stayed in the country after his visa expired.

Today, Daniel is in his early 20s. He and Monica are both living in Milwaukee. They, like thousands of other residents in Wisconsin, have a family with a mixed immigration status. Monica and her husband are undocumented. Daniel has some protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Another child, a daughter who was born here, is a U.S. citizen.

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Monica says she feels conflicted about coming to the U.S. She says she recently was talking to her sister who still lives in Mexico. The sister told Monica she regrets she didn't come to the U.S.

"Dice, yo no se porque nos arrepentimos por que no nos fuimos," Monica says.

But Monica told her sister that, although life is difficult in Mexico, at least she's with her daughters. She said, "you do not imagine what is the United States." 

"Yo se que tu ha sufrido y batallado mucho pero tu estas ahi con tus hijas. Tu no te imaginas que es lo eeuu," Monica says.

Credit Olivia Richardson
Monica's son, Daniel Gutierrez Ayala, speaking in defense of DACA at a rally in Madison in November 2019.

Monica says she missed precious time with her children when they were growing up because she worked so many hours. As an undocumented immigrant, Monica runs the risk of deportation. But she says what she fears most is not what will happen to her, but to her children, especially Daniel.  

As a DACA recipient, Daniel has permission to go to school and to work. But DACA is being challenged, and its fate is in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. So, Daniel's status -- along with that of hundreds of thousands of other students -- is pending.

Editor's note: We left the quotes in the person's native language, with rough translations following the quotes.

Angelina Mosher Salazar joined WUWM in 2018 as the Eric Von Broadcast Fellow. She was then a reporter with the station until 2021.
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