As many of you likely know, I am an immigrant from México, and because of God’s abundant grace, I am legal. I am legal not because I deserve it nor because I am better than anyone else. I am legal because the stars aligned with the moon and everything fell into place. To pretend that I deserve to be “legal” or that I am better than my countrymen – who do not have the same fortune that I have – is cowardice of the worst kind. Many of us “legal” immigrants are the worst of the worst when it comes to the immigration debate. Because we have papers, we either keep our heads in the ground pretending that the fear and devastation around us is nonexistent or, worse, we pretend to be better than our fellow immigrants.
Last week I witnessed something that made me sad, truly sad. I am seldom sad, because the Lord keeps me energized, but what I witnessed had a profound effect on me. I deal with emotions by expressing myself through creating. I program, write or create graphics. These are my tension releases. As I digested what I had just witnessed, I was compelled to create a poster, a poster that I hope expresses the fear of being an undocumented immigrant in the country today.
I came upon a Home Depot in Orlando at about 7:30 in the morning last week. Behind the store, where trucks exit the contractors’ desk, I saw one Sheriff’s deputy and a swarm of Homeland security ICE agents. The setup was obvious. As many of you know, everyday across the country, laborers gather at the Home Depots to get a job for the day. Also, landscapers and handymen get supplies and tools for the day’s work. As vehicles exited the Home Depot commercial lane, they were met by one sheriff’s deputy. That one deputy gave the ICE agents the right to question drivers and occupants of the vehicles. It likely went like this; “can I see a driver’s license” was the question under the guise of a safety or security operation.
That stop, gave the ICE agents “probable cause” to question and detain the drivers and the other occupants of the vehicles. The utter look of defeat in the faces of the people being detained broke my heart. It tore me apart.
The immigrants being detained woke up that morning with one goal in mind, get to work as early as possible so that they can collect paychecks for their families. The immigrants weren’t at Home Depot at 7:30 in the morning to score weed or rape anyone, they were there to feed their families.
But because of the hate politics that some push forth to make themselves feel better, many families are without their dads, and sometimes moms today.
It runs the gamut, from the xenophobes to the immigrant bashers, to immigrants who feel deserved over the others, on to the people who walk through life oblivious to the realities around them. It trickles down to the ICE agents who look at immigrants as nothing more than cattle to score more points with for their superiors. ICE agents portray themselves as saviors of the community when many of them, if not all, are just thugs with a badge. The worst are the ICE agents, who are immigrants themselves, some even undocumented, who collect paychecks on the backs of their brethren.
Some of you are sighing, you had me until you threw in undocumented ICE agents. You are probably thinking to yourselves, there is no such thing as an undocumented immigrant working as an ICE agent.
But there is, more than one.
Just last month, Marco Antonio de la Garza was arrested in Arizona for lying about where he was born to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, where he worked as a Border Patrol agent. He is not the first as others have been arrested after working as Border Patrol agents for years.
Francisco Cantu, a former Border Patrol agent, wrote a book, “The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border” about his experiences as a Border Patrol agent. Cantu wrote about how he, and his fellow agents destroyed water bottles and food stations in the desert. Cantu added that he found the Border Patrol agency designed “to break you down and rebuild you into an enforcement agent.”
To understand what the means one doesn’t need to look further than how Perla Morales-Luna was arrested by ICE agents in San Diego just a few days ago. Morales-Luna was grabbed by three Border Patrol agents and pushed into the back of a Border Patrol van, as her three daughters “shrieked and sobbed.”
The video of the arrest was posted on social media by one of the teachers of the children, who added on her post, “it breaks my heart to know that this is the mother of one of my students.” These violent arrests of people are not about law enforcement, it is a display of unbridled power driven by xenophobic fears based on false narratives.
It must be an exaggeration some of you may be thinking, but the facts say otherwise. Consider that Homeland Security spokesperson, James Schwab, quit his job because he did not agree with the “misleading facts” put out by his former agency on behalf of the Trump administration.
It is these “misleading facts” that creates the notion that immigration enforcement is about protecting the community. It is a numbers game, each immigrant arrested and deported is a trophy for an administration that has no use for immigrants and an agency that paints undocumented immigrants with one large brush – all to be treated as dangerous criminals.
It is also these “misleading facts” that perpetuates the myths that none of this would be a problem if only immigrants respected the country well enough to “follow the law”.
When the Trump administration, and former administrations, put out narratives about MS-13 or drugs, they do so to create an illusion designed to demonize people for political purposes. It is an illusion that Donald Trump has grabbed unto to energize his xenophobic base. It is a narrative that has confused so many Americans that they do not understand what it is to be undocumented and why they are undocumented.
The people I witnessed being arrested were doing right by their families. They work hard and, for the most part, keep out of trouble. Did they want to be undocumented? I’ve yet to meet a single immigrant that wants to be undocumented. Most, if not all, would gladly document themselves if rational leaders would take a step back and look at the issue of immigration, not as a political football, but as a human experience that transcends through families and communities without regard to nationality.
Some of you reading this today will remain unwilling to take a step back and really look at the problem but, instead, choose to remain oblivious to the problem or, worse, choose to continue to believe that “there is a right way” to immigrate. To you, there is nothing I can say to change your minds.
But, it needs to be said, if nothing else, for the children who today find themselves without a father, or food on the table, just because deporting immigrants is now a sport with players and spectators participating alike.