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Central Oregon Immigrant Families

The Face of Immigration: Meet the Santos-Silva Family

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ICS, in partnership with the Latino Community Association, works to provide affordable legal services to immigrants in Oregon and Southwest Washington, just like the Santos-Silva family. Your generous donations can strengthen our communities by helping hard working families like theirs access their rights, and flourish.

In Pursuit of the American Dream

It is a hot Saturday afternoon in late August, but the air is cool inside the family home. Lorenzo and Eladia have just returned from work, and their four children and the family pets, Prince the parakeet and Robert the cat, are relaxing on the sofas. The Santos-Silva family lives on the outskirts of Bend in a large, neatly-kept trailer home, surrounded by lovingly tended vegetables and flowers. Lorenzo supports his family of six working six days a week as a house painter. Sundays are his only day off. Eladia, his wife, works part time as a housecleaner at a hotel, on a constantly-changing schedule.

Both he and Eladia, who have their “green cards” or U.S. permanent residency, grew up in the small village of Cochuco, Municipio Charapan, in the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico. Both came from large, very poor families who struggled to eke out a living in the hardscrabble land, where there was insufficient food and water, no medical care, and no money to send children to school. They both worked to support their families from the time they were young children.

It was not easy for them to come to the United States. “It was frightening. There were men with pistols who demanded money from us, and the journey was hard. It was very difficult to leave my mother and my family,” Eladia says. Despite the extreme hardship of the journey and leaving her parents and siblings, she doesn’t feel that she had a choice but to leave Mexico. “There was no food, or water, and we had no money. Since it cost money to go to school, there was no opportunity for education in my village.” Lorenzo echoes his wife’s sentiments. “We had to figure out how to get enough money to live. I had to help my parents support 11 children. It was a struggle and I didn’t have the opportunity to go to school and learn how to read and write.”

Lorenzo is adamant about his children’s future. “I work very hard because I want more opportunities for my children. I tell them they must have an education.” Eladia agrees, noting that although it is difficult being far from her family in Mexico, “I don’t regret leaving. I didn’t get the opportunity to go to school and can’t read or write. I want better for my kids.”

The Santos-Silva children were all born in the United States, and are anxious for school to start back up in the fall. Like their parents, they are polite, bright, and engaging. Seven-year-old Ericka is entering the second grade. She loves going to the library and wants to be an artist when she grows up. Tommy is 10 years old and going into the 5th grade. “My favorite subject is art,” he says. He loves mystery stories and wants to be an author when he grows up. He loves to sled in the winter, especially in the park near their home. At 13, Angelo is the oldest, and is entering 8th grade in the fall. He wants to be a professional soccer player when he grows up. Alex, who is 12 and will start 6th grade, loves sports like his older brother. He wants to be a basketball player.

The couple faced another challenging journey when they began the struggle to obtain legal authorization for their presence here, or “green cards,” a process lasting almost four and a half years. Lorenzo speaks of the money they had to pay the private attorney, and the frequent trips to Eugene to check in with immigration authorities, and to Portland for attorney visits and court appearances. “For every trip we had to take the children out of school and I lost pay for missing work.” He also spoke about the endless search for papers to support their case: tax filings, job and school records, birth and marriage certificates, and so much more. “It seemed like every day we were told about more papers we needed.” The day they had their final appointment Eladia says, “We arrived with a mountain of papers, and left with the promise of green cards.”

Lorenzo, who has never been without a job, is happy that ICS has opened a nonprofit mobile legal clinic serving immigrants in Central Oregon. “I wish we had access to such low-cost services years ago when we were applying for our residency,” he says. “It would have made a tremendous difference to us.”

Central Oregon’s Santos-Silva Family

Photographs by Emma Hall