MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump's tough stance on immigration is likely to be one of the topics in the president's address to Congress. So we thought we'd take a few minutes to share a different perspective about this. Now, some of the people in the U.S. without proper authorization are being deported to countries they know virtually nothing about. That was the case for Tania Mendoza. She was a toddler when her family brought her to the U.S. from Mexico. Her parents were unable to secure the documents they needed to stay in the U.S. legally.
But the family stayed anyway in the Los Angeles area where Tania grew up, went to school, started working and had a daughter. Mendoza's life changed in 2010 when a police officer pulled her over for rolling through a stop sign near her home. Within days, she says, she was detained and deported to Mexico.
That was seven years ago. She has not seen her daughter in person since then, and the girl is now 11. I reached Tania this weekend via Skype, and I asked her to tell me about the moment when she realized she was living in the U.S. illegally.
TANIA MENDOZA: You grow up thinking you're American, and you're like everybody else. And then little by little, you start realizing that that's not the way it actually, you know, is. Once my parents saw that there was danger, then that's when they told us so I definitely did not know before, but then after, yeah.
MARTIN: So what happens when you get dropped off there? Like I say, you haven't lived there ever that you remember. I mean, you obviously haven't been back there, and you've never lived there as a, you know, conscious being, right? You were - since you were a baby when you left. When you get dropped off there, what happens? Where do you go?
MENDOZA: Thank God that a family member was here. He actually drove all the way from LA before I even arrived to Tijuana. So a family member was here and a friend. They rented a hotel for me for the first few days, and then we actually got together with a long distance family member that we never actually ever even meet. But they (unintelligible) like a month at their home and eventually I got my own place and eventually - I mean, it took a while for me to become a resident also in Mexico. Even though I'm from Mexico, but in the meanwhile, I would get help from my family and - back in the U.S.
MARTIN: Can you even speak Spanish?
MENDOZA: We never really, like, talked a lot of Spanish other than my - with my parents. But, yeah, I speak Spanish. I had to learn actually as I'm here.
MARTIN: Well, can I ask you, Tania, what's been the hardest part of this whole thing?
MENDOZA: The separation with my child. That's the hardest thing ever. It's like hard to talk about it. Like, I get the knot in my throat, and then that's the hardest part ever just being away from your kid.
MARTIN: I'm sorry. Well, I do have to say, though, you were deported during the Obama administration, and there was a - the head of a Latino civil rights organization once called the president the deporter in chief. And I wondered did you feel that way?
MENDOZA: I can't say I feel that way because I had an order deportation prior to all this since I was young. I don't see it that way, like it was his fault or even Trump or any of that. I think it was just the lack of the correct paperwork, the actual lawyers that were taking our case. You know, they were the ones who pretty much made certain mistakes, and, you know, didn't set everything how it was supposed to set.
MARTIN: So your hope is to return to the U.S. I think some might wonder why can't your daughter join you in Mexico?
MENDOZA: Well, her dad, to start, he does not want to let her stay over here with me. And I've seen cases, not just that, but I've seen a lot of cases here of U.S. citizen kids that are actually here. And I see their lives. They get bullied by Mexicans themselves. And after seven years of me being here, I think, you know, she's actually fine where she's at because it's a struggle for them as well, you know, just like it's a struggle for me to adapt in the country that I think I'm from. So I don't think she would be in any way comfortable at all whatsoever.
MARTIN: Can I just ask you before I let you go - and apologize if this is hurtful to you - but if somebody is listening to our conversation and says, look, your family broke the law, they didn't have proper authorization to be in the U.S. and that's a shame. But why should they let you back into the United States? I mean, what would you say to them?
MENDOZA: I would say that because I'm considered American. I feel American. I did everything for America. I was raised as an American, and, therefore, I should be considered, of course, of going back. Nevertheless, the fact of my daughter being there as well. Other than that, I mean, they do or don't want me back - just to help me out in the situation of visitations with my child. Pretty much. You know we want something for these kids. That's what we're fighting for nowadays, you know, for the kids not to go through this because I went through it, and we don't want our future kids to go through it.
MARTIN: That's Tania Mendoza. She immigrated to the United States as a toddler and spent most of her life in California. She, along with her parents were there without proper authorization in 2010 - she was deported to Mexico. And she's been trying to return to the States or at least to achieve visitation with her 11-year-old daughter whom she was forced to leave behind. She was kind enough to speak to us from Tijuana via Skype. Tania Mendoza, thanks so much for speaking with us and telling your story.
MENDOZA: Thank you guys for calling. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.