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Mixed Immigration Status Gave Brothers 'Very Different Perspectives'

Angel, left, and Randy Villegas attend Angel's graduation ceremony in 2018 at the New School of Architecture & Design in San Diego, Calif.
Angel and Randy Villegas
Angel, left, and Randy Villegas attend Angel's graduation ceremony in 2018 at the New School of Architecture & Design in San Diego, Calif.

Randy Villegas and his older brother, Angel, grew up in Bakersfield, Calif., under the same roof. But they lived in separate realities: Randy as a U.S. citizen and Angel, an undocumented immigrant.

In their 20s, the two siblings came to StoryCorps last year to talk about the moment Angel realized he was undocumented, and how their status affected their relationship.

Angel, now 29, was in the fourth grade when he found out he was born in Mexico. His teacher had brought up the U.S.-Mexico border.

"My teacher, he explained to me why we have a border — like, people from Mexico want to come to this side," Angel said. "He didn't explain it, like, in a mean way or anything like that."

That night, he talked to his mother about it. That's when she told Angel that he was born in Mexico.

"I was like, 'I didn't know I was born over there. What about Randy?' " he recalled. "She's like, 'No, he was born here.' "

"I was like, 'What?' In fourth grade I didn't think it was, like, a big deal, 'cause it wasn't back then."

It wasn't until he got older that Angel's undocumented status started to be a hurdle for things like visiting his grandparents in Mexico or getting his driver's license.

"When it started getting in the way was when I started figuring out I couldn't do things," he said. "I'll admit, I kind of was distraught and hopeless."

Randy, 26, said the most difficult part for him was the "overwhelming guilt" he felt when he was preparing to go to college. "Because I knew that you wanted to do that, too," he told his brother.

"I didn't know you felt guilty," Angel said. "Like, if I would have known I would have been like, 'Just go for it. Don't worry about me,' 'cause eventually, like, I'll catch up."

When Angel was in high school and thinking about career paths, he was interested in becoming a pilot. But realizing that dream was complicated by his immigration status and the amount of paperwork schools required to apply.

But in 2012, Angel became a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which grants him temporary legal status and protects him from deportation under the Obama-era program.

Six years later, he graduated from the New School of Architecture & Design in San Diego. Angel now works as an architectural designer in Bakersfield, Calif.

As for Randy, he's getting his doctorate in politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Randy asked Angel how he thinks their different citizenship status has affected their relationship as brothers.

"Very different perspectives," Angel said. "As a kid, I was super shy, and like, I guess fearful of letting too much information out.

"Our parents were always telling me, like, 'Don't tell anybody where you're from. You never know who's around the corner or who could snitch on you or something like that.' "

Because of his vulnerable immigration status, Angel said, "I always had that fear, no matter what."

He said he worried that if he "got pulled over by the wrong cop, it would be him, and then 15 minutes later, a Border Patrol agent. ... And I try to be brave, but life comes at me sometimes."

"I think you have been," Randy told him. "I don't think we've ever talked about this this deeply. But, even if we're not always saying 'I love you' and giving each other hugs ... at the end of the day, I hope you know that I have your back."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Camila Kerwin and Jo Corona. NPR's Emma Bowman adapted it for the Web.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at

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Camila Kerwin
Jo Corona