SACRAMENTO -- After nearly a year and a half of trying, a 23-year-old Sacramento-based paralegal successfully petitioned for her own undocumented parents’ green cards.
In the stacks of files on Keren Carrillo's desk, two cases in particular were especially close to her heart. As their names and documents remained in her folder, their pictures sat on her desk.
"There were times where I would cry myself to sleep. I felt helpless. When my parents were taken advantage of in a job, they couldn't tell anybody,” said Carrillo.
Twenty-one years ago, Carrillo's father Javier Noriega Villarreal worked as a seasonal migrant worker, spending half the year in Mexico and the other half in the U.S. Her mother, Irene, came to the U.S. on a travel visa after marrying Javier.
When the couple’s first daughter was born in the U.S., they stayed.
Carrillo and her two sisters are citizens, but they grew up afraid that at any moment their parents could be deported.
"I can remember being afraid in elementary school. Like even seeing cops, I’d be afraid because what if they stop my parents?” said Carrillo.
“There was always fear whenever anyone knocked on the door, who was it going to be?” said Carrillo’s mother in Spanish.
It was that fear that drove Carrillo to study immigration law and fight for families like hers.
Now 23 years old and a paralegal, she worked for the last year and a half to get her parents their green cards.
And Saturday their green cards were granted. Her hard work paid off.
"You give your parents a gift that's like, unfathomable. That's how it kind of just felt,” said Carrillo.
"I feel very proud, very happy that it was because of my daughter I was able to get my status here,” said Carrillo’s mother.
“It's a country where everyone has an opportunity. You can become someone, build something for yourself. It's been hard, but it's easier now,” said Villarreal.
Carrillo says her next step is to go to law school, then become an attorney. She says even though her parents' burden has lifted -- there are thousands more in their shoes who need an advocate like her.
She says when she takes cases now, she often will see her parents in the clients whom she represents.
"Definitely, there are cases where it's just so hard to hold back the tears because I'm like that could be my mom,” said Carrillo.
In the fall, Carrillo graduated from UC Davis as an undergraduate student. She’s now studying for the LSAT, and plans to apply to UC Davis, UC Berkley and Stanford law schools.