Cinthya’s Journey – an Immigrant’s story

By Patricia Castañeda

She crossed the border legally in August of 1997 with a tourist visa that eventually lapsed. The summer vacation to visit Abuelita (Grandma), the aunts, and cousins, got longer and longer. Seventh grade started, Cinthya found herself perfecting the English she had grown up learning in Mexico, and settling into a life surrounded by family, life was good.

Abuelito (Grandpa) had been a Bracero, who benefited by the Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986, which Ronald Reagan signed into law, and became a citizen. This allowed him to sponsor his children one by one to become U.S. citizens. Cinthya’s mother was the last of his children to join the family in the U.S., so she was the last one to get “in line” to start the process of becoming a legal resident in 1997. Abuelito died in 2012 worried about the fact that his daughter was still waiting “in line”; a process that had taken 15 years, and her turn still had not come. Cinthya and her mother found themselves in limbo. For Cinthya going back home to Mexico meant facing a potential 10 year bar that could prevent her from coming back legally to the U.S., and staying without status in Indiana meant facing the constant fear of getting deported.

“She decided to confront her fear and get arrested for doing something she believed in, supporting the rights of human beings to be treated with compassion and respect.”

She decided to stay; this was the first time Cinthya was scared and consciously aware of her undocumented status; she was living in fear. She worried that she really was a burden to society as she repeatedly heard in the media. Cinthya decided to get informed beyond the media bites. Her mother was paying taxes that paid for the school she had attended as a child, the libraries she used, the infrastructure of our cities and state. Cinthya realized she was not a burden and decided to join local organizations to try to change immigration policies.

On November 15th, 2011, Cinthya joined a group from the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance and travelled to Alabama in support of local organizations to protest the draconian, anti-immigrant law the State of Alabama had just passed. Cinthya knew that engaging in civil disobedience could lead to her arrest, and possibly deportation to Mexico, but it would happen on her own terms. She decided to confront her fear and get arrested for doing something she believed in, supporting the rights of human beings to be treated with compassion and respect. When her hands were being bound together by the arresting officer, all Cinthya could think about, as tears rolled down her face, is how this was happening because she wanted it to happen, under her terms, for a worthy cause. The next three days she spent in jail felt the most liberated and empowered she had ever felt. Her journey from living in the shadows, in fear, to this moment of liberation, behind bars, was over.

Cinthya now has been able to secure temporary protection from deportation through President Obama’s Deferred Action Program, which gives her the ability to secure a job at the Law Office of Kevin Muñoz, and apply, for the first time in her life, for a driver’s license.  

Patricia Castañeda is with


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