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