Archives for October 2016

Our Immigration Stories: Thalia Novoa, Volunteer Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA

Whether they came over the Bering Strait, on the Mayflower, or are first generations Americans, our staff and volunteers are guided by their own immigration stories in everything that they do in serving immigrants in downstate Illinois. These are the immigration stories of our agency.

This is Thalia Novoa’s Immigration Story.

thaliawebpageThalia first joined the Immigration Project as an intern in 2013. She became the  Volunteer Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA in 2016.  

Thalia is descended from Mexican immigrants through her mother and father. Her ancestors lived in the south of Mexico, primarily in Tequesquitlan Jalisco. It is a small rural community about three hours from the west coast. She still has family in Tequesquitlan Jalisco and like her ancestors they are still farmers and bee keepers.

Her parents both were born and raised in the same town in Tequesquitlan Jalisco. Her father left Mexico as a teenager and traveled to California and Nevada seeking economic opportunities as a laborer, he eventually reunited with his family in Illinois. Her mother also left Mexico for the United States as a teenager. Her mother reunited with her family in Chicago where she became a waitress. While the two had dated back in Mexico they had not left for the United States together. It was not until the 1990s that they would meet again in Illinois, marry and start a family.

Her family faced the same obstacles many families with mixed immigration status face: separation. As the daughter of undocumented parents Thalia grew up with the constant threat of having one or both of her parents deported. When her mother applied for legal permanent residence in 1998 she was put in deportation proceedings instead. Thalia was only eight years old. She accompanied her mother to immigration court and spoke with the judge upon whom her family’s fate rested. As a child at the time she did not know how important this day was. Her mother’s attorney was candid about her mother’s chances, stating that there was, “only a one in the million chance,” that her mother would win her case and remain with her children in the United States.

Thalia’s family was lucky. The judge saw that her mother worked and paid taxes, and like other immigrants throughout the history of the United States, came her for opportunity and family. He also understood that deporting her mother would be detrimental to Thalia, who was born a US citizen. Her mother later became a legal permanent resident and a United States citizen in 2015.

However, Thalia’s father had a longer path to legal permanent residency. It was not until Thalia became an adult that her father was able to become a legal permanent resident. Once her father resolved his status Thalia could finally find peace with knowledge that her family could never be taken away from her.

Thalia’s family is just one in a long tradition of immigration to the United States going back to before the founding of the country. They left a poor rural community and worked hard. Unlike many generations of immigrants who arrived prior to the United States government’s implementation of restrictive and discriminatory immigration policies during the twentieth century, deportation by the United States government has become a real and constant risk for the undocumented parents of US citizen children. The standards applied to immigrants today put families like Thalia’s at constant risk of separation.

By Hanna Tarbert

Our Immigration Stories: Rebekah Niblock Staff Attorney

Whether they came over the Bering Strait, the Mayflower, or are first generation Americans, our staff and volunteers are guided by their own immigration stories in everything that they do in serving immigrants in downstate Illinois. These are the immigration stories of our agency.

This is Rebekah Niblock’s Immigration Story.


Rebekah Niblock has been an Immigration Project Staff Attorney since 2013.

She is the descendant of Scottish immigrants through her paternal line. They arrived throughout the 1700s to escape famine and political instability.  Her ancestors were among the earliest colonial settlers in the Appalachian regions of what later became the United States. Her immigration story is the story of two families: the Niblocks and the Caldwells.

Rebekah’s Caldwell ancestors have a rich history. The Caldwells were sailors and other sea-farers that served and worked  in the Mediterranean during the fourteenth century. Afterward, they settled in France where they remained until religious persecution under King Francis I forced them to flee to Scotland.

Upon arriving in Scotland they purchased land under the condition that they would send sons and fighting men to help King James V of Scotland.

One of the Caldwells, John Caldwell, married and relocated to Ireland, as many of Rebekah’s Scottish ancestors would do prior to resettling in the colonies. John did not feel Ireland was safe for his new family and sought to join family members already in the American colonies.

The Caldwell family arrived in the colony of Delaware in 1727, then relocated to Lancaster, Pennsylvania and later relocated again, this time in Virginia in 1742. Other Caldwells joined them to Virginia and formed the “Caldwell Settlement.” Many descendants of the Caldwell Settlement also relocated to other colonies and, after the American Revolution, different states throughout the east coast.

Her ancestor that bears her surname, William Niblock, came to North Carolina circa 1750. He arrived with other colonists to Pennsylvania and settled in the northwest corner of Rowan County, North Carolina.

William was a Scotsman who, prior to arriving to North Carolina, moved to Ireland seeking better economic and political conditions. However, famine in Ireland and continued political turmoil compelled him to seek new opportunities in the colonial United States. The land William was able to purchase remains in the Niblock family.

Today Rebekah helps many people with immigration stories similar to her own ancestors. Hundreds of years ago John Caldwell sought to reunite with family already in the Americas. Now, Rebekah helps clients sort through the complicated immigration system that often stands as an obstacle between them and family reunification.

Rebekah helps immigrants fleeing persecution as her own ancestors fled religious persecution in France and later fled political turmoil in Scotland and Ireland. Today Rebekah’s ancestors would have been called “asylee seekers” or “refugees.”

Her ancestors also made the journey to the colonies in order to escape famine in Ireland. Countries in such dire conditions today sometimes qualify for “temporary protected status,” something Rebekah helps immigrants in downstate Illinois apply and re-apply for today.

The Immigration Project is the principal provider of high quality low cast immigration legal services in downstate Illinois. To learn more about our mission and how you can contribute please visit us at, you can also like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.


By Hanna Tarbert

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