Elizabeth Perez was 7 months pregnant when she crossed the US-Mexico border, illegally, in 2010.
She fled her Guatemalan hometown because her unborn son’s father had a wife he had neglected to tell her about, and the two threatened her life. At the same time, her village was enveloped in war over land with another community.
Her sister, whom Perez had not seen since she was 8, lived in Chelsea, and she hoped she might have a chance to raise her son in peace in the United States. But she misses her family in Guatemala — her mother died during heart surgery after she left — and fears deportation.
Perez and her son joined other immigrants and advocates in East Boston on Saturday afternoon to rally for new immigration laws and underscore the impact deportations have on families. The event was organized in honor of Mother’s Day by a collection of immigration advocacy groups, including MassUniting, the Student Immigrant Movement, and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
Perez said she has turned to various legal and immigrant rights organizations for help. Some will take her name and number and never call her back. One organization has told her she could qualify for legal assistance at a reduced rate, but they will not take her case pro bono.
Without legal immigration status, Perez does not qualify for free public preschool programs for her son, who was born in Massachusetts and will turn 3 this month. She spends most of her income on his day care, she said, and cannot afford legal bills.
“Now, I lost all the hope,” she said. “If they’re going to pass the reform immigration law, I’m going to have a free life.”
Conrado Santos, a Student Immigrant Movement member, said the possibility of new immigration laws offers mixed hopes for those in the country illegally.
“I think people are anxious,” Santos said. “Our community is already suffering so much under the weight of deportation. . . . But on the other hand, I think people are excited. For the first time in 26 years, immigration reform is a real possibility.”
Santos is an undocumented immigrant who came to the Unites States from Brazil, following his parents, when he was 13. He graduated from Somerville High School and studied philosophy and public policy at UMass Boston for a year and a half before dropping out because he could not afford it.
Monique Nguyen of Quincy, who was in the country illegally for years after a lawyer let her family’s immigration visas lapse, said she thinks events for undocumented immigrants help unify a group of people who are often too frightened to come together.
Nguyen, the director of MataHari: Eye of the Day, a human rights organization for immigrant women and women of color, said she hoped Americans considering new immigration laws would think about uniting families separated by deportation.
“When people think about immigration reform, they should think about families,” she said.
Nguyen’s parents fled war-torn Vietnam and settled in Vancouver, where she was born.
In 1996, her aunt lost her leg when a drunk driver crashed into her while she was loading groceries into her car, and Nguyen’s family moved to Houston, Texas, to help her.
Her parents spent 15 years in the United States, then gave up on the citizenship process after their visas lapsed and they moved back to Canada.
“After being in the US for 15 years, they all dropped their lives to start over in Canada,” she said. “They moved around their whole life, losing their country and then coming here. It’s been really difficult.”
Nguyen studied nutrition and global business at the University of Houston. She married a New Yorker of Filipino descent in 2006 and became a permanent US resident in 2007. Permanent residency means Nguyen can travel freely with her Canadian passport and does not have to fear deportation.
She is eligible to apply for citizenship, but said the $680 application fee is prohibitive.
“I actually decided not to travel to Canada this year so I could use that money to naturalize instead,” she said. Although that meant she would not “see my mom and family for another year,” she said.