A fight for legal freedom Despite the challenges, people are still willing to endure the many hurdles to enter along the southern border


By Isaac González Díaz

| Part of the series Our Future, produced in collaboration with the California Youth Media Network.

Pedro S. moved to Salinas four years ago to flee the lack of opportunities in his native Mexico.

“Where we lived there was no work. There was no way to get money for personal expenses and bills,”  the 18-year-old said. 

During the previous administration, strengthening security at the southern border was supposed to deter migrants from coming into the country. And under the Biden administration, rules went into effect in May that deny asylum to those reaching the U.S.-Mexico border who did not apply beforehand.  

And yet, immigration to the United States — or attempted immigration — continues unabated. The number of migrants trying to cross into the United States reached a new high in December when the U.S. Border Patrol reported 250,000 encounters with people trying to come into the country from Mexico. 

The number topped the previous record set in May 2022 when the Border Patrol encountered 225,000 people attempting to cross the border.

“The immigration system doesn’t work and the asylum system is not working the way it used to work, and it worked reasonably well,” U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, told Young Voices in a video interview. “There are 4 million cases in the immigration court system that have not been decided, and there are more cases going in than there are cases closed, so people who are (arriving) at the border are never going to have a hearing,” Lofgren said. 

Young Voices spoke with several undocumented students in Salinas to discuss a range of issues related to their immigration status and their reasons for leaving everything behind. Young Voices is not publishing their last names to protect their identities.

Vicky D., 19, was destined for marriage at a young age in her hometown in Oaxaca, Mexico. But she wanted a different life — she wanted to study, and her parents, who lived in the United States, also wanted her to pursue an education.

“I wanted to come and see my parents because I hadn’t seen them for years,” she said. Back home, “I didn’t have the opportunity to study since there were no teachers.” 

Vicky’s journey to reach the United States took a few months. It included several attempts to cross the border and getting caught by the Border Patrol. She was about to be sent back home when she told authorities her parents were already in the United States. She was allowed to seek asylum and is now a senior in high school. 

“I want to be an interpreter of Mixteco to help native speakers. I also want to be an architect,” she said.

For Esteban V., 15, to make it to the U.S., he had to spend several months in Mexico, stuck in houses full of people in the same situation.

“Sometimes you didn’t bathe or brush your teeth,” he said. “The bathrooms were used by a lot of people.”

Esteban and his family traveled mostly by bus from Nicaragua, a treacherous trip. The group that traveled with him included Cubans, Nicaraguans and Hondurans. All of them were arrested in Mexico twice and sent back to Guatemala because the Mexican government had made a pact to deport Central American immigrants trying to reach the U.S.   

“They took us to a house that was falling apart,” he said. “A piece of the wall fell over a man, and (the smugglers) didn’t want to take him to the hospital. They told us that they left him lying there and a priest took him to the hospital.”

Now on the Central Coast, Esteban and his family are facing a challenge common to all residents: the lack of affordable housing.

“The most difficult thing about living in the U.S. has been finding a home,” he said. “It is difficult to find cheap apartments. Almost all of them have high costs or sometimes you must live with a lot of people.”

Despite the challenges, the students are motivated by the possibilities their new lives offer.

“The most difficult thing for me … has been the language and getting into the culture, because you must get into it and learn new stuff,” said Aylin A., an 18-year-old student at Gavilan College.

Most of them said their families inspire them to move forward. 

“My mom told me that when she was younger, she wanted to continue to study but her parents didn’t support her. My parents are supporting me, and she couldn’t achieve that dream, but I’ll do it” for her, said Dayana C., 18, a high school student.

Most of these students arrived in the U.S. in the last two to three years, proving that the allure of this country remains strong for regions mired in economic challenges and ever-growing violence. 

Despite the slew of negative news, these young immigrants remain confident in their futures and their career prospects: they want to become veterinarians, nurses, and beauty stylists. 

“I would like to study medicine with a specialty in surgery, David A., an 18-year-old high school student said, “I want to give my parents a better life, that’s why I must work hard.” 

“The news makes us a bit sad and makes us a bit scared, but I’ve always said that as long as you are here and you behave, there’s no reason to be kicked out,” of the country, said 17-year-old Eduardo D., a high school student. 

 “So we will be fine.” 

Claudia Meléndez Salinas contributed to this report. 

This story was produced by Voices of Monterey Bay and is part of a collaborative youth-driven project “Our Future” that includes content from Boyle Heights Beat, Coachella Unincorporated, The Contra Cosa Pulse, The kNOw,  Tower of YouthVoices of Monterey Bay, and YR Media

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About Isaac González Díaz

Isaac Alberto González Díaz graduated in 2023 from North Salinas High School and is now attending Hartnell College. He plans to transfer to a four-year university to pursue a degree in journalism. He enjoys photography, building Legos, listening to music, reading, and taking walks around his neighborhood.