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LOS ANGELES -- If caught by U.S. immigration officials, Angel Estrada, 48, says he has plans to start over in his old hometown of Cuernavaca, Mexico. He already knows whom he would call and at what hotel in Mexico he would meet his family.

His daughter Karla, 24, raised in the United States since age 5, has no plans to leave easily or quietly if immigration officials go after her.

"If they are going to deport me, they are going to have a very bad taste in their mouth," she said. "I'm going to call this person, this organization, this lawyer. I'll get on Facebook ... Twitter. I'm going to do a media circus. I'm going to stay in this country."

Estrada and his wife, Gloria, arrived at a place he refers to as "Pete Wilson's California" at a time when hostility toward illegal immigration was strong enough to get a tough-on-immigrant ballot measure, Proposition 187, passed. Being young and illegal at a time when they could easily have been rounded up in an immigration raid, they learned to keep their heads down and trudge along with every working day without drawing attention.

Their daughter, a recent University of California-Los Angeles graduate, has grown up in a world of great digital interconnectedness, with networks of immigrant activists ready to quickly do battle on social media and through street demonstrations for people just like her.

For Karla, her status as an immigrant in the country illegally is not something to hide. Sitting next to her father in the living room of their Chino home, she disagrees when her mother says in Spanish: "It scares us when she talks about it. We tell her, 'Karla, don't talk about that. Don't be so open about it, there on Facebook.'"

"My parents always say it's better to keep quiet, not say anything and just try to blend in," Karla said. "For me it's no longer about blending in. It's more like 'Yes. I'm undocumented and so what?'"

Karla Estrada is roughly the age her father was when he arrived in a much more hostile California. She's living through another period of strong rhetoric against illegal immigration, with Republican presidential candidates, led by billionaire businessman Donald Trump, talking about mass deportations, criminal aliens and building walls along the Mexican border.

But she's also a young person living in a state where Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed immigration-related measures that included one that removed the word "alien" from California's labor code. He also signed legislation allowing noncitizens in high school to serve as election poll workers and protecting the rights of foreign minors in civil suits. The state also granted driver's licenses to people in the country illegally.

Since the previous mass legalization in 1986, there are at least two more generations of people who are in the country illegally, said Roberto Gonzales, a Harvard sociologist.

"Compared to their parents, undocumented youth are more connected to the people and places that surround them," he said. "Relationships with native-born peers and teachers instruct them that they can achieve the American dream -- to believe that if they work hard and play by the rules, they will have opportunities to become whatever they choose."

Karla is a recipient of President Barack Obama' 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gives work permits and deportation reprieves to people who were brought to the United States as children and stayed illegally. There was no such program for her parents.

Even before she got her reprieve from deportation, she said she already felt as if there was a large, digitally and politically savvy network of activists ready to stand with someone like her.

"I don't know why they won't fight," she said of her parents. "I would. And if they let me, I will call everyone in order to help my parents out to come back to the country."

But Angel Estrada, as a young man, didn't arrive in this California.

He arrived in a state that was angry over border-crossers and was trying to pass laws against them, long before states like Arizona tried to make it harder on aliens in the country illegally to live there.

Angel Estrada didn't like to wave the Mexican flag or talk about his legal status.

"The young ones these days aren't even scared to say they are undocumented," he said. "They see it as something normal."

Earlier this year, as illegal aliens rushed to apply for driver's licenses, Angel Estrada hesitated. He wondered if the driver's license he got in the early 1990s with a fake Social Security number would get him in trouble.

At his daughter's urging, he applied, explaining his situation to a Department of Motor Vehicles clerk, who told him his new driver's license would likely arrive in the mail if he hadn't committed any infractions or felonies under his old driver's license.

"I feel a sense of security because I know how to speak English perfectly. I have American habits," Karla said. "I have the culture. I listen to their music. I have their mentality of the ... American dream."

The passage of Proposition 187, a ballot measure intended to deny taxpayer-funded services to people in the country illegally, including children, galvanized Hispanics, prompting them to vote more. It also created a generation of better organized and politically connected activists.

In the early 2000s, the rise in human smuggling of aliens helped build a cottage industry of lawyers who represented the foreigners after they were captured in police raids. That made it easier for some illegal aliens to avoid deportation, at least for a while.

Angel Estrada left Cuernavaca with his family for the United States for good after their middle-class life there crumbled following the devaluation of the Mexican peso in the mid-1990s. Back then, he said, it was relatively easy to cross the border.

His plan was simple. Work hard to support his family the best way he could. When his daughter started getting involved in activism and let her studies lag, they urged her to stop, telling her: "You have to study because we came here to this country and we suffered during the crossing, and we don't want for you to stay behind. You have to go forward."

Karla listened and began to better balance her activism and her studies, he said, but she had no plans to stop speaking out.

Karla helped organize protests in Costa Mesa, Calif., and acts of civil disobedience in Washington. By 2010, she started to identify herself as "undocumented and unafraid."

By that point, her parents wanted to see what all the hype was about, so they accompanied her to a meeting where young activists gave "testimony" about life in the United States.

Her parents shook their heads, recalling the situation.

"It was just one sad story after another," Angel Estrada said. "There was just a lot of lamenting of their situations."

The daughter interrupted. "But Papa ... they were healing circles."

There were, to Angel Estrada's knowledge, no "healing circles" in 1994.

Karla and her parents still disagree on some matters, particularly on the handling of the immigrant rights movement. Her father and mother cringe every time they see a Mexican flag at rallies, saying that "it's in poor taste" and a "disrespectful" act that only serves to anger politicians and Americans.

"These are extremists that don't represent me. I think they have to realize that they are in someone else's country and have to adapt themselves to this country," Angel Estrada said. "We have to behave well because the country is watching us."

Sometimes it's difficult for Karla Estrada's parents to accept some of her beliefs and actions. Sometimes, with a laugh, they hint that they are also inspired by them.

"She doesn't have any fear. That makes me feel so proud," her father said. "We created this generation. We just didn't know just how far this generation would take us."

SundayMonday on 10/11/2015

Print Headline: Older illegal aliens' fears skip younger generation

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