The student’s name has been changed for confidentiality purposes.
A pair of feet shuffle through the front entrance of Naperville North High School as Sofia arrives at school. She says good morning to the campus supervisors and makes her way to her first class. The day proceeds as usual until the final bell rings. She walks out of the building, and returns the next day to repeat the familiar school schedule.
Almost every person at Naperville North is unaware that Sofia traveled a very different path fifteen years ago — one that took her across the Mexico-U.S. border. An abstract political argument about walls is something she’s actually lived.
In 2004, three-year-old Sofia, her pregnant mother and Sofia’s aunt crossed the Mexico-U.S. border within a larger group of immigrants and the assistance of a human smuggler known as a “coyote.” In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security estimated that human smugglers charge up to $9,200 for this journey. After traveling through Texas, Sofia ended up in Illinois, where she currently resides with her mother, step-father and her four younger sisters. Her sisters were all born in the United States, so they automatically obtained citizenship while the remainder of the family are considered undocumented immigrants.
“[My sister] once told me that she felt guilty because she was a U.S. citizen and that I wasn’t,” Sofia said. “I always reassure her that my status here doesn’t affect what I want to do with my life…So even though [she is] a U.S. citizen, if I work harder than [her], then I will be able to achieve whatever I want.”
Sofia is an undocumented immigrant living in the United States, and she is not alone. The American Immigration Council estimates that 450,000 undocumented immigrants lived in Illinois in 2014, making up 3.5 percent of the total state population.
An undocumented immigrant, according to the Internal Revenue Service, is defined as someone who has illegally entered the country without approval or has remained in the country without permission after their visa or authorized stay has expired.
Regardless, Sofia explains that she does not dwell on her legal status on a day-to-day basis as she navigates high school.