Vanessa Melendez was six years old when she arrived in the United States. She doesn’t remember much about her life before in Mexico. The Dodge City resident does remember being a teenager and discovering she was in the U.S. illegally when she applied for her first job according to a recent article from the Dodge City Daily Globe.
The reason Melendez isn’t a citizen is she can’t afford it. Naturalization is very expensive.
She married a U.S. citizen with the hope they could afford the process.
"I thought since the father of my child was a citizen, I wouldn't have to struggle so much," She said. "But I continued to struggle because now we just couldn't afford it."
Melendez now has five children, and is their sole provider.
"I pay everything at my house," she said. "I pay rent, I pay all my bills…I don't know how I do it, but I just do."
She was cited for a traffic violation in 2012. That incident prompted officials to discover she was an illegal immigrant. She was transported to The Wichita Detention Facility where she was placed on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold.
ICE was created in 2013. It’s the investigative department of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security responsible for enforcing immigration laws, including apprehending and removing individuals who reside in the United States illegally.
Melendez says being at the detention center was hard.
"A lot of people are in there," Vanessa says. "They treat you like a criminal, they handcuff your feet and your hands — my gosh, it was hard. You feel like you did something really wrong."
"But then, I realized it was a good thing I got caught because then you are demanded to go to court and they give you information on who to talk to and the things you have to do — it's kind of a way out — but financially, emotionally, it's not."
She sold her car to retain an attorney, is out on bail, and is now working through the court system trying to stay with her family in the United States.
More of the story about the mom fighting to stay in the United States is available from the Dodge City Daily Globe.