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UNDOCUMENTED: Family experiences first-hand effects of immigration problems

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OGDEN -— Angie Ramirez was only a teenager when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents swarmed the Layton burger joint where she worked.

Ramirez and her coworkers watched armed men surround the building and block every exit before finding who they were looking for — her stepfather — on his lunch break.

“It was very, very dramatic,” she said. “I was only 16, and I was like ‘What the hell is going on?’ I was bawling. I mean, my stepdad was being taken away.”

Nine years later, as a 25-year-old with a daughter of her own, Ramirez realizes how fast she and her four siblings had to grow up that day.

“We didn’t have a normal childhood,” she said.

Stories like Ramirez’s could become more common if President-elect Donald Trump follows through with his many promises to deport undocumented immigrants and build a wall on the border between Mexico and the U.S.

Raids like the one she experienced during George W. Bush’s presidency became less common during President Barack Obama’s administration, but Trump has promised to resume them.

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Angie Ramirez was born in California and grew up in Utah but has watched her as parents and siblings struggle with immigration issues. As a teenager, Ramirez watched Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raid the Layton restaurant she was working at in order to deport her stepfather.

Despite her life experiences, Ramirez wants the best for her home country.

“No matter how much I dislike Trump and all the horrible things he has said and done, the last thing I want him to do is fail,” Ramirez said. “He’s running our country, so I want him to succeed.”

Fear and resilience

Ramirez said her mother, Martha Villanueva, began coming to the U.S. as a teenager in the 1980s.

“She told me it was on the back of her brother’s motorcycle,” Ramirez said, laughing. “They just came across and that was it.”

Villanueva’s first two children, Juan and Nestor, were born in Mexico. After Angie was born in California, Villanueva brought her two oldest across the border into the U.S. and eventually settled in Layton. 

Villanueva remarried, but the two filed for divorce in 2007, which might be how her ex-husband ended up on the government’s radar. 

A year after he was deported, Villanueva decided she should go back to Mexico, too.

“Her fear was if she didn’t leave, if she got picked up, it’s way, way worse,” Ramirez said. “Your chances of coming back to the U.S. are very slim.”

With their mother in Mexico, the three youngest Ramirez children were put in the custody of their second-oldest brother, Nestor, in a two-bedroom apartment he shared with his girlfriend, a roommate and the roommate’s little brother.

“It was terrible,” Ramirez said. “It was so crowded all the time. There were so many of us.”

After several years of working to support the household, Ramirez and her two younger siblings moved into a trailer home given to them by her then-boyfriend’s mother, who was also following her deported husband back to Mexico.

They stayed in the trailer for several years, and Ramierz gave birth to her daughter, Aliyah, who didn’t get to meet her grandmother until age 2.

“(My daughter) is going to know what it’s like to be a part of a family who has illegal immigrants in it, who had to struggle to be here, to be together,” Ramirez said. 

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Erik Ureno and his sister, Angie Ramirez, pose for portrait in downtown Ogden on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. The siblings were both born in the United States, but their family is mix of legal U.S. residents and undocumented immigrants. Their mother returned to Mexico when they were younger, following the deportation of her husband.

Erik Ureno, the youngest of the five siblings, is 19 years old. He lives in Salt Lake City, working as a certified nursing assistant and going to school.

Ureno said he spent about six months with his mother when she went back to Mexico following his dad’s deportation, and he said he doesn’t ever see himself returning there to stay long-term.

“We were very Americanized,” he said. “We’re very fluent, that wasn’t a problem, but we grew up here for the most part. Our culture became a new one, a Mexican-American culture.” 

Speaking in Spanish on the phone from Mexico while Ureno translated, Villanueva said deportation and other immigration issues are both emotionally and financially difficult.

“It’s a very deep sadness because you can’t control the situation,” Villanueva said. “It affects you for life.”

Ureno said he was was forced to grow up quickly because of his family’s issues with immigration. He also follows news and politics closely and felt Trump’s win was a “slap in the face.”

“I felt he was disrespectful to my culture, my people, and I felt like a lot of people didn’t understand immigration,” Ureno said. “They can say what they want about it or that it’s ‘illegal’ or whatever it is, but I understand why people do it. I understand it’s not easy to do it the legal way.”

Villanueva said talk in Mexico about the U.S. election was negative.

“She feels like a lot of people had hopes and ambitions about coming back and becoming citizens, including her, and she feels that potential hope is less likely because Donald Trump is our president,” Ureno said.

“He killed people’s hopes,” Ramirez said, who was also listening to the phone call with her mother.

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Angie Ramirez wipes away a tear as she listens to her brother, Erik Ureno, talk with their mother on speaker phone at Ground for Coffee in downtown Ogden on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. Their mother, Martha Villanueva, currently lives in Mexico and was talking about the loss of hope in her community following the election of Donald Trump.

Impacted for life

Nestor, who Ramirez says has battled alcohol abuse for years, moved back to Mexico to be near his mother and other family members. Now he can’t return legally, and Ramirez said her brother has been beaten up several times, making him regret his decision.

Juan, the oldest brother, has also battled his own immigration problems. He married a U.S. citizen and was in the process of becoming one himself when he went to Mexico for a court date.

“It was supposed to be a one-time thing, less than a week, and he was going to come back,” Ramirez said. “A week turned a month, a month turned into two months, and that was the longest he had ever been in Mexico.”

Ramirez said her brother ultimately decided to re-enter the United States illegally to be at the birth of his first child. That decision has made his life here difficult ever since.

“I feel like, because my mom left, it kind of tore us apart a little bit,” she said. 

Ureno wishes more people understood immigrants enter the U.S. illegally because they’re trying to find a better life for their families. They’re escaping violence and poverty and wouldn’t leave their home countries if they didn’t have to.

“People who are immigrating here aren’t looking to spew violence of any sort — that has been the rhetoric that has come along with Trump’s anti-immigration position,” Ureno said. “In most cases these people are seeking work. They want to be normal.”

Contact education reporter Anna Burleson at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnagatorB or like her on Facebook at

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