Jesús Villalba was part of one of the largest waves of Mexican migration to the United States following the bruising effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on the Mexican economy. His parents left first, leaving Jesús, four years old at the time, in the care of his grandmother in their village. When he was eight, she told him they were going to travel to the U.S.
"My grandmother walked us over to the coyote." [0:12]
Meeting his parents was not what Jesús expected. He suddenly found himself sharing a one-bedroom apartment with 10 of his family members, including an abusive father. He left home at the age of 19 and spent two years on the streets, homeless. He eventually gained permanent residency through the Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJ) status, which grants green cards to foreign children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent.
Though he obtained some form of legal status, New York City didn't exactly feel like a sanctuary because the future always felt uncertain for him and his family.
"You gotta stay in line, or else ... we'll call immigration." [0:15]
In 2016, the situation got worse. Donald Trump’s campaign promises to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and deport many of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants unsettled the community. While the Obama administration deported 2.5 million immigrants—more than any other prior president—an estimated 8 million could be at risk under President Trump.
Since his inauguration, President Trump has yet to secure funding for the wall. However, the undocumented community hasn't escaped unscathed. In February 2017, news spread of hundreds being arrested during Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids nationwide, causing mass hysteria within immigrant communities.
So far, the president has also failed in his attempts to cut federal funds from sanctuary cities that welcome undocumented immigrants, but his new immigration policies put many at risk of deportation for minor felonies—a break from the previous administration’s deportation priorities.