Madison, an undocumented mother of three, came to Utah on a student visa and now constantly worries she'll be deported.

Salvation on Hold

Madison was 11 when two missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to her home in Mexico City, bearing a plan for eternal salvation. Madison converted, and dedicated her life to her new faith. 

Seven years later, when Madison’s Mormon bishop told her she had a higher purpose in Salt Lake City, she followed his vision by applying for a student visa to study at the University of Utah. 

Soon after arriving in Salt Lake, she fell in love with a fellow Mexican immigrant who wasn’t a Mormon—and felt certain she’d found her purpose in life. “I was trying so hard to help him become LDS,” she says. 

Three years and three kids later, Madison’s husband told her he was no longer interested in her. After their divorce, he quickly remarried an American citizen. And with that, Madison found herself in an impossible dilemma: She was the single, uneducated and undocumented mother of three children, all citizens by virtue of their birth whose father is also now a legal resident of this country. “There’s no way I could leave,” she says. 

The Path of Marriage

He’s muscular, broad-shouldered, handsome and well-educated. But when it comes to women, Carter has a problem.

When, exactly, is the best time to tell a date that you’re undocumented? “Obviously, that’s something you want to be up front about, right?” he asks with a pained chuckle. 

Carter was a toddler when his parents brought his family to the United States. He’s never been to the country of his birth. At this point, the easiest route to legal status—a route some advocates advise as a love-our-way-out-of-this-problem solution—would be to marry a citizen. But Carter can’t stomach that. 

“There’s no way I’d ever get married for papers,” he says. “I just couldn’t do that to my wife.”

The fact that “family values” politicians—many of whom are fighting to preserve the sanctity of marriage in its traditional form—would allow matrimony to remain the quickest loophole to legal status while eschewing other reforms bristles him.  

The way he sees it, it’s hypocrisy. And with each new piece of state and federal legislation aimed at punishing undocumented immigrants, he wonders when it will all end. 

Escaping the Violence

The bandit held a gun to Tyler’s* chest, then raised it to the trembling teenager’s head.

“¿Dónde está su tía?” the gunman demanded. “Where is your aunt?” 

Tyler didn’t know. And he said so. That’s when a man with a machete walked into the room. 

“Don’t you know that we’re going to kill you?” the second bandit demanded.

Unable to give the men what they wanted—the location of his well-to-do relative—Tyler closed his eyes and prayed that God would spare him the blade. “If I was going to die,” he said, “I just wanted it to be quick.” The robbers tied him up, ransacked the home and left.

That was in the late 1990s. As in much of Mexico, where more than 50,000 people have been killed in the past five years, security in the Pacific state of Guerrero has since collapsed. In March, the severed heads of seven men and three women were lined up on a street in the city of Teloloapan. 

Tyler saw it coming and fled. “First we tried to get visas but we were denied,” he said. So he came illegally.

To be sure, the past few years have been difficult for Tyler. “I still live in fear,” he says. “But not the same kind of fear as before. They want me to go, [but] there is no place to run.”

Families Torn Apart

Jackson was just a toddler when it happened, but he swears he can remember it all.  

“I was on this couch right here,” he says, punching a finger in a hole in the frayed armrest of a tartan-patterned, 1970s-era loveseat. “And I was crying so hard because my mom was in jail. Later I found out she wasn’t in jail anymore, but she was back in Mexico with my grandparents.” 

Jackson’s mother, who had used a false Social Security number to get a job, had been deported back to the impoverished, gang-ridden state of Michoacán by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of a series of workplace raids in 2006. But like many deported aliens—especially those ripped away from their families—she was back in Utah within a matter of months. 

Today, at an age in which his friends are occupied with skateboards and video games, Jackson is worried that someone will come again to take his mother away. Often, when he cannot sleep, he shuffles into her room and lies down next to her. “To protect her,” he says. “I try to stay awake in case they come.”

By the Numbers

11.1 million

Illegal immigrants thought to be living in the United States  

110,000

Estimated number of illegal immigrants living in Utah, up from 15,000 in 1990

72

Countries to which people are facing deportation in Utah immigration courts

$9 billion

 Amount paid annually in Social Security taxes by undocumented workers who will not be able to benefit from the program 

$10.4 billion

Net federal cost of households headed by illegal immigrants, including dependents who are U.S. citizens  

Sources: U.S. Census, Social Security Administration, Pew Hispanic Center, Center for Immigration Studies, Congressional Budget Office.

Editor's Note: Many names on this page have been changed to protect the identity of sources.

Back>>Part 6: Field of Dreams, The Utah Solution

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