The People Behind the Immigration Debate
Immigration has been driving a national conversation that, in part, propelled President Donald Trump to the White House and has pitted many of the nation’s cities against the Trump administration’s policies, in particular, increased efforts to deport illegal immigrants already in the United States and the attempt to ban immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries. This is one in a series that tells the stories of three immigrants, one from Asia, another from South America and another from Africa.
WASHINGTON — Diana immigrated to the United States in 2008 from El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. She was partially prompted by a previous trip to the country.
Diana said she knew she wanted America to be her home from the first time she visited.
Diana asked that only her first name be used for this story to protect her identity. She declined to reveal her immigration status or the status of her family.
Diana’ initial exposure to America was during a trip in 2006 when she was 16 to visit her grandparents in Los Angeles. Even as a teenager, she said, she knew she preferred the U.S.
America was a melting pot of different cultures and she wanted to be a part of that, she recalled.
“I saw different people from different backgrounds” she said. “El Salvador is limited. Everyone is from the same place and speaks the same language.”
Diana was too young to move to the U.S. by herself, so, she started telling her dad about her dreams to move, she said. Her father was having trouble finding work in El Salvador and a family friend was living in Silver Spring, Maryland. He told her father there were plenty of places to find work, she said.
Diana said she thinks the combination of the search for a job coupled with her constant comments about moving to America helped prompt her father to move.
Her father moved to Silver Spring in 2007. She declined to mention his status, but said he came to Maryland by plane.
She was 18 when her and her mother joined him in Maryland. Her older brother and sister stayed behind.
“They’re older than me, so they had their lives already established in El Salvador before I left,” Diana said. “We didn’t live in a village, so they were comfortable to stay.”
Diana said she was just happy to be in the U.S.
While living with her family, Diana said she began taking English courses at Montgomery College, a community college in Montgomery County, Maryland. She already earned her high school diploma in El Salvador.
“I studied English for three months, and then I started to work,” she said. “I finished the advanced level of English, but for me, working was better.”
Two years into living in the United States, Diana became pregnant with her daughter. She needed to support herself and her daughter, so she began working for Wagshals, a catering company in 2011. In 2015, Wagshals assigned her to work as a cook at a television station, NBC Washington.
“I like to work and pay my bills,” Diana said. “Maybe one day I can study something else or become a chef, but for now, I work to take care of my daughter.”
Diana said she and her boyfriend plan to purchase a home in May in Germantown, Maryland. Diana said she has no regrets about coming to America.
“I like to visit El Salvador, and I miss my food,” she said. “I think it’s better in America,” she said. “I had a beautiful house in my country. We never lived on a farm, and we always lived in the city. But, I prefer the United States.”
Diana said she believes her daughter, who she called her motivation, will have a better life as an American citizen.
“She speaks English and Spanish perfectly and she’s only 7,” Diana said. “She will probably learn a third language. I think this country is better for her. She has a better life here.”