gets pregnant and drops out of school.’ ”
Karina’s mother had her usual answer
for the temptations of adolescence: Work.
And during her daughter’s senior year in
high school, she convinced her supervi-
sor to hire her. “I said, ‘No Mommy, I don’t
want to work,’ and she looked at me and
said, ‘Yes you do want to work.’ ”
That was her life for the next five years.
During the day she went to school (first at
Montgomery College and then the Uni-
versity of Maryland, Baltimore County).
From 6 to 11 she cleaned office buildings.
After midnight she did homework.
Her mother wanted her to be a nurse,
but Karina had other ideas. She was surrounded by young immigrants—friends,
classmates, co-workers—and she realized they all suffered the same nightmares.
Being caught. Being left. Being betrayed.
She had found a calling, and when she
changed her major to social work she
explained to a professor that many young
people suffer from stress and depres-
sion after crossing the border and living
in limbo. “I was talking about me,” says
Karina. “I was talking about the emotions
that I felt.”
She did an internship at the youth cen-
ter, and last year they offered her a full-
time job with flexible hours so she could
finish her undergraduate degree, but on
one condition—stop cleaning buildings
and get more sleep.
She agreed with a “heavy heart.” That
job had helped her grow up, pay for school,
find a path. But now she was ready for a
new life, beyond scrubbing toilets and
emptying waste baskets.
When I ask her about future plans, Karina mentions attending law school and
focusing on immigration policy. But seeing her grandmother again is never far
from her mind.
“One promise we made to each other is
that she wouldn’t die on me,” Karina says.
“She would wait for me to have my first
baby. I want one day to go back and be able
to present her with my baby.” n
Steve Roberts teaches journalism and politics at George Washington University. His
student, Gloriana Sojo, contributed to this
column. Send suggestions for future topics to
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