'It's law and order' on the U.S. border with Mexico — or is it?

In Houston, a Texas city home to half a million undocumented people, CBC News meets some of the players in the debate around illegal immigration and hears their hopes and fears.

On front line of illegal immigration debate, Houston residents show resolve and fear

Since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country have been on edge.

Figures from the Department of Homeland Security show that arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were up 38 per cent in the first 100 days of Trump's presidency compared to same period in 2016, reaching nearly 400 a day. 

CBC News recently went to Texas and visited Houston, which has the third-highest number of illegal immigrants of any U.S. city and spoke to some of the people affected by the changes.

'I was just crying and screaming'

Every afternoon, Rose Ascencio-Escobar, 29, takes her two-year-old daughter, Carmen, along to pick up her son, Walter, from the school bus. The children's father and Rose's husband, Jose Escobar, 31, was deported from the U.S. to El Salvador on March 2, 2017. 

(Nick Purdon/CBC)

Jose Escobar's deportation was a shock to his family because since 2012 he had a provisional stay of deportation and a work permit, a common scenario for some illegal immigrants. He was a supervisor with a painting company in Houston. When he was 14 years old, he slipped across the U.S.-Mexico border to join his mother who was already in the U.S. He met Rose on his first day of middle school. Rose was born in the U.S., but her parents also fled El Salvador and came to U.S. illegally. In 2011, the high school sweethearts got married. 

(Escobar family)

U.S. immigration officials were aware that Jose Escobar was in the country illegally. In fact, Escobar had been detained in 2011 but was released on the condition that he report to officials whenever he was asked. On Feb. 22, 2017, when Rose met him at the local ICE offices, she was told Jose was being deported.

(Escobar family)

"He was surrounded by five guys, and Carmen was reaching out for Jose," she said. "And Jose was, like, just please leave because I don't want Carmen to see me like this, and he was crying. I threw myself on the floor and I was just crying and screaming."

Now, the Escobars Skype with Jose every day after school.

(Nick Purdon/CBC)

Jose lives with two aunts in the small city of La Union in El Salvador — a country he hadn't set foot in in 17 years. While he says he's had offers from smugglers who say they could get him back to Houston in a matter of days, Jose says he wants to return to the U.S. the legal way.

According to the family's lawyer, Escobar likely won't be admitted to the U.S. for at least five years. 

"Jose is an American," says Rose Escobar, who works as a receptionist at a Houston hospital. "He just doesn't have the paperwork that says he's an American. But he is an American and where he is right now, in El Salvador, is not where he belongs."

(Nick Purdon/CBC)

'On board with Trump'

Bob Hall, 75, is the special assistant to the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. Harris County includes Houston. 

Hall has always voted Republican. "I'm on board with Trump," he said. "He is doing all the things I would do if I had the power in his position. We are a country of laws. And he's not going to deport everybody. Nobody thinks that except the Democrats."

(Nick Purdon/CBC)

Hall helped train Cooper Jackson, 31, to make cold calls and try to motivate people to vote in the local school board elections. Jackson is a manager at a car wash manufacturer in Houston. He says if the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico that Trump is promising is built, it'll be a tourist attraction and he'll work there. 

Cooper Jackson cold calling voters from the Republican headquarters in Harris County, Texas. (Nick Purdon/CBC )

"I'm the silent majority," Jackson said. He thinks of himself as a "happy soldier" when he's making calls on behalf of the Republican Party. 

"When you tell me 'illegal immigrant,' I think of someone who should be punished," he said. "We as a society should be able to say who comes into our country and who doesn't. We as a country should be able to say, 'I'm sorry, we don't want your beggars and your criminals. We want your doctors, and we want the people that are going to benefit, but they're also going to give back to our society. It's law and order on the border."

When asked what he would say to Trump if he got the chance, Jackson says: "I love you and thank you very much. I don't regret voting for you."

(Nick Purdon/CBC) (Nick Purdon/CBC )

American accomplices

Raed Gonzalez, 53, is an immigration lawyer in Houston. He says he's never been busier, in part because people who are in the United States legally are worried about being deported and coming to see him for advice. Gonzalez says the American people have a responsibility to accommodate the 11.1 million undocumented people living in the country. 

"We gave them the jobs to come here," he said. "They bought houses, and we sold it to them. We let them get loans for cars. We educated their children. And a lot of them are U.S. citizens. And now, we're going to tell these people, 'You need to go.' I mean come on, it's unrealistic."

Gonazlez's office is busy. "Even though Trump is saying we're deporting bad hombres," he says, "well, sadly, they're deporting good hombres, too." 

(Nick Purdon/CBC)

'I'm not afraid'

Cesar Espinosa, 31, is undocumented. He came to the U.S. from Mexico with his parents on a tourist visa when he was six years old. The family never left. Espinosa graduated from college and now runs an organization called Fiel Houston that fights for the rights of undocumented immigrants. 

Before Trump was elected last November, Espinosa says, he held information sessions for undocumented immigrants a few times a year, but now he's crisscrossing the city every day, risking arrest. On this day, he is at Stephen F. Austin high school in Houston 

"I'm not afraid," Espinosa says. "A lot of people think with the new administration, we should be afraid and things like that, but I am undocumented and unafraid, and I'm going to keep fighting."

(Nick Purdon/CBC)

Worried faces of illegal immigration

Melissa Lopez, 35, arrived 30 minutes early for Espinosa's presentation. She is afraid for her husband, Pablo, who is originally from Guatemala and is in the U.S. illegally.

"I worry that one day he might get pulled over over a minor traffic violation and he won't come home."  

(Nick Purdon/CBC)

Freddie Antonio Cruz, 73, is an American citizen but wants to understand the rights of his 17-year-old nephew who is in the country illegally from El Salvador. Cruz's nephew is enrolled at Stephen F. Austin high school.

Under former president Barack Obama, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as kids received protection from deportation. Cruz worries that Trump could change that.

(Nick Purdon/CBC)

Adela Deyante, 39, says she is afraid of what's happening in the country. Deyante is undocumented. She worries that if she is deported, her children, who are 16 and 19 and U.S.citizens attending school in Houston, won't be able to cope by themselves.

There are six million children in the United States in families where one or both parents don't have proper papers. Many of those children are citizens.

(Nick Purdon/CBC)

Begged to stay to see daughter graduate

Juan Francisco Rodriguez, 47, left El Salvador and slipped into the U.S. without papers in 2001. He says that's the only crime he's ever committed.

He works as a mechanic in Houston and lives with his wife, Celia Maria, and their children Rebecca, 15, Karen, 18, and Kimberly, 10. 

(Nick Purdon/CBC)

Jan Francisco Rodriguez has a document that he says proves he has reported to officials whenever asked.

(Nick Purdon.CBC)

On Feb. 10, 2017, he went for his annual meeting with immigration officers in Houston. Rodriguez says he was told he was being detained but he begged the officer to let him stay in the U.S. until Karen graduated from Cristo Rey Jesuit College in Houston. Immigration officials granted him his wish and he will be at Karen's graduation, but after that, he will be deported. 

"You try to live each day," Karen Rodriguez said. "But it's hard because the sadness comes in, and you know that he's not going to be here in a while. I will have him for graduation, but what about birthdays and Christmas and Thanksgiving? What am I going to be thankful for this year if they are taking a big part of me?"

(Nick Purdon/CBC)