WOODBURN, Ore. (AP) — Teresa Alonso Leon envisioned a better life in a promised land when she was brought from Mexico to America as a young girl. Instead, her family wound up in an unheated house in Oregon with no indoor plumbing, eking out a living by picking strawberries.
It is all the more remarkable, then, that Alonso Leon became one of the first people brought to the U.S. illegally to become a lawmaker in America when she was elected last November to Oregon’s Legislature.
Alonso Leon’s victory “shows that human potential does not know immigration status, and that among America’s immigrants, especially those who have come here as children and benefited from the right to education, their potential offers leadership for the country,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
The irony that Alonso Leon was elected the same day that Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton is not lost on her.
“We didn’t get our woman president that we were hoping for, but they got me as a legislator,” Alonso Leon said with a laugh in her small office in the Oregon Capitol.
Alonso Leon, a Democrat, became a U.S. citizen in 2012. Now, with Trump stepping up immigration enforcement, she sees herself as a defender of her constituents. Her district is centered around the predominantly Latino town of Woodburn, 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Portland.
U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, known by its acronym as ICE, already has focused on the town, stopping two vans loaded with workers in February and taking several people away. Alonso Leon is a former Woodburn City Council member.
“When I think about the folks in my community who wake up so early to go to work, and now they wake up in the morning to go to work and hope and pray that they don’t get pulled over by ICE, to me that’s just unacceptable,” Alonso Leon said in an interview. Some kids are even afraid to attend school, she said, worried they’ll return to empty homes, their parents gone.
By ANDREW SELSKY for US News
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