Immigrant families are worried about Election Day, and they're making plans for after.



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Somewhere in a folder in a drawer at an Citizenship and Immigration Services in Connecticut is a record of Luzia Manha’s fingerprints.  

It’s been four months since she had them taken. And she’s starting to worry.

Luzia Manha works on a client’s hair. Photo by Luzia Manha/Facebook.

Manha, a hairdresser from Norwalk, Connecticut, has been a legal permanent resident of the United States for almost 20 years, after emigrating from Brazil in the mid-1990s. Her husband passed away in 2014, shortly after the couple finalized the adoption of their two young children. She initially applied for citizenship as a means to add a layer of security for her family.

Every time she hears Donald Trump speak, she thinks her application can’t process fast enough.

“You feel the need to become a citizen to make sure you don’t have a problem just in case he gets elected,” Manha said.

By Trump’s own definition, Manha came to the United States the “right way.” She began filing paperwork before leaving Brazil. When she first arrived on a tourist visa, she was legally unable to work — so she didn’t. Since then, she has built a successful career. Still, she fears that her status could be changed, downgraded, or even revoked under a Trump administration — a common worry among members of her Brazilian expatriate community in Connecticut.

Her children are frightened too — which their mother’s green card is no shield against. Manha recalled an incident where a classmate told her daughter that if Trump becomes president, “people that were not born here, and people that are her color, are going to be in trouble.”

“She just lost her father, and now she’s worried that her mother’s going to be sent home? And then what’s going to happen to her?” Manha said.

The Trump campaign often frames the decision to emigrate to the U.S. — one made by over a million people around the world annually — as a series of black-and-white labels or choices. There are “Americans” or “illegal immigrants.” Immigrants who came the “right way” or the “wrong way.”

A Honduran immigrant holds a fellow immigrant’s child in Mexico. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

For many families, it’s both/and, not either/or.

Tony Meneses, a playwright and college professor in New York City, moved to the United States from Guadalajara, Mexico, when he was a baby. His parents were able to secure citizenship for him and themselves when he was 9. His brother and sister, who were already adults at the time the family’s application was processed, remain undocumented.

“She’s very hopeful it won’t happen. She’s very confident she’ll be OK. I mean, she’s a parent, so at the end of the day, she’s always trying to transmit that comfort and safety to me.”
— Penelope Durand

Both have worked for many years in white-collar jobs. Both are married to U.S. citizens. Meneses’ brother even supported Trump for a time — until his siblings and parents persuaded him to change course.

“They’re so in the culture of this place that if something were to threaten that, that if they were taken out of here, I think it would really kind of destroy their lives,” Meneses said.

Penelope Durand, a college student in Baltimore, said she plans to take her mother back to Peru in the event of a Trump victory.

Despite being born and raised in New Jersey, Durand views Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric as a “direct attack on [her] family.” Her father is a U.S. citizen, and her mother is undocumented. The couple never married, and her mother’s attempts to secure permanent resident status through official channels have, so far, ended in frustration.

Durand worries that laws like Arizona’s “show your papers,” law, which allows law enforcement officials to check detainees’ immigration status during routine stops, could become the norm under a Trump presidency.

Karl Orozco/Upworthy.

“She’s very hopeful it won’t happen,” Durand said. “She’s very confident she’ll be OK. I mean, she’s a parent, so at the end of the day, she’s always trying to transmit that comfort and safety to me.”

Regardless of her mother’s assurances and the protection of her own citizenship, leaving her mother alone in New Jersey to contend with potentially hostile authorities is not a risk Durand says she’s eager to take.

Of the millions of immigrants living in the United States, over 13 million are legal permanent residents. More than 11 million are undocumented. Millions more fall in between those categories.

Each individual exists as the nexus of a network of colleagues, family, and friends who love them, house them, cheer for them — and, increasingly, worry for them.

That anxiety is nothing new for Meneses, who has long been troubled by the possibility that his siblings could be deported — even before the current campaign season.

“It’s sort of a weird fear that I don’t think people really know,” he said. “It’s like, to constantly be afraid of something that could really just destroy everything that you worked for,” he said.

Meanwhile, Manha continues to study American history for her citizenship test. Incidents like the one her daughter experienced at school and Trump’s resilient popularity with a subset of voters remind her of the darker episodes from that sometimes-messy story.

Luzia Manha with daughter Clara, husband Ulysses, and son William. Photo by Luzia Manha/Facebook.

“I felt like I was living in the past,” Manha said. The kind of future and security her family will have, she worries, is up for grabs in the 2016 election.

On Nov. 8, she, Durand, Meneses, their families, and millions more like them will see what voters want it to be.

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