We, the Hunted: Life in Trump’s America
In the aftermath of the mass shooting in El Paso, TX, which specifically targeted Mexicans, as well as the largest ICE raid in US history carried out against undocumented immigrants in small towns throughout the state of Mississippi, the Latinx community grapples with the ever-present fear of being hunted.
The text messages cut through our WhatsApp group chat, surgically, like a scalpel. From Jersey City, my girlfriend’s sister, Karla, gives us the play by play of the heartbreaking conversation she was being forced to have with her daughter. We are overseas in Paris, and the 6-hour time difference immediately reminds me how relative it can all seem in the wake of terrible news.
Bella just told me she didn’t want them to take me away. I’m explaining to our little baby that they can’t take me away.Karla Hoppe Levit
The first of three mass shootings over the course of last week, but the one specifically ‘targeting Mexicans,’ had taken place at a Walmart in El Paso, TX, on Saturday morning of August 3rd. Patrick Crusius allegedly drove his Honda Civic for 11 hours from Allen, TX, to the Cielo Vista Mall where, just moments after his manifesto went live on “8chan,” he allegedly murdered 22 people and injured 24. He was apprehended a quarter of a mile from the scene. The shooting is now being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism and a hate crime.
Immediately, the idea of a presidential visit was deemed questionable, given Trump’s unrelenting racist rhetoric targeting immigrants, primarily from Mexico and Central America. Ultimately, the ill-advised visit to El Paso, took place Wednesday the 14th and felt like a painful attempt to patch up the country’s newest wounds. Within hours, the fresh stitches were torn as over 600 ICE agents, at seven different poultry plants dispersed throughout various cities of Mississippi, arrested nearly 700 undocumented workers while their children were at school. According to ICE, agents gave many parents the opportunity to make arrangements for their children. As reports of the raids spread, it was clear that countless children were abandoned without notice. Chaos ensued.
The one-two punch hit our community hard. Many families, as an act of self-preservation, have gone into hiding. For Bella, who is just three years old, the idea that our family could be broken up in any way brought her to tears. Her mother, born a US citizen, assured her that everything would be alright. Not much older than Bella, hundreds of children have been left without their parents. Of the 300 or so workers released on humanitarian grounds, many have ankle bracelets and are awaiting immigration court hearings. The rest remain detained.
Latinx immigrant families are often referred to as being of mixed-status, meaning that according to the US federal government, some are present in the country legally while others aren’t. That division separates us into categories: The ones with papeles, those without, and the countless others who are stuck somewhere in between. That limbo state places steep limitations on who can apply for an adjustment, and the process can be long, arduous, and expensive.
That is, “if” they can make it here.
The ramifications of the Trump administration’s Zero Tolerance policy have left nothing but devastation in their path. The anti-immigrant sentiment we see flagrantly flaunted under this president is not new, simply, emboldened. Hate crimes have also been steadily increasing throughout his tenure.
You have to go in, you can’t let anybody know. Otherwise when you get there, nobody will be there…I just hope to keep it up.Donald Trump, President of the United States
Earlier this year, during the TriBeCa Film Festival, the NY Times premiered its documentary film “La Boca Del Lobo,” about a Salvadoran journalist from Atlanta, Mario Guevara, who reports about the migrants who are swept up by ICE raids in Georgia. His advocacy and pursuit of truth and justice is powerful and worth watching.
My girlfriend and I had attended the premiere back in April and held hands in the darkened theater while we cried once the film concluded. To be undocumented in the United States is to live in fear and uncertainty. All across the country, though the stories are diverse, they all carry that central theme. I know this truth, intimately.
I have felt unwanted in this country since I was five. In the late ‘80s, my mama left El Salvador with my infant sister and I, post-earthquake and mid-Civil war, to reunite with my father in the US. The harsh realities of undocumented life would prove difficult in the suburbs of Washington State where xenophobia was rampant. Bigoted views were a mainstay, even as communities with migrants were drastically safer, and the fact that immigrants contribute billions of dollars to social security (thereby keeping it solvent) and billions to the economy. Personally, I became convinced our worth in this country was earned with the dollars we produced. It was never enough.
The uncertainty of navigating the immigration system and ever-mounting legal fees wreaked havoc on my family, kept me from obtaining higher education, and left me constantly looking over my shoulder for la migra. Over the course of my life, I witnessed how each of the nation’s leaders mishandled immigration issues, enforced abusive policies, and took advantage of immigrants by using them as political pawns. Mostly, I felt like I had to keep my protest of such actions muted for fear of being singled out, detained, or denied further access as my immigration applications were repeatedly submitted and processed. My life became the manifestation of the good versus bad immigrant narrative and I slowly accepted the reduced value of my humanity. It took me decades to accept myself as worthy.
Then, in 2001, I caught a break, when Salvadoran nationals were offered Temporary Protected Status after a major earthquake rocked El Salvador. Seven years later while living in California, just prior to Barack Obama’s election, my TPS lapsed and I ended up homeless. The road to lawful permanent residency and ultimately, naturalization seemed impossible. The anxiety-inducing panic of undocumented life was crippling, and the lasting trauma is something I deal with, even now.
Open the Cages
The journey to the US is perilous. With each new headline, we hear of migrants who lose their lives either in their attempt to cross due to the unforgiving landscape, being sent back upon arrival or by the bullet.
Although border crossings are not at record levels. A record number of families are crossing.Dara Lind, Vox
White supremacy is a powerful idea that preys on vulnerable minds, driving them to an extreme where they willingly hold their fellow humans’ hostage at point-blank range and squeeze the trigger until all their fury has shaken the earth. It is also what drives policymakers to provide federal agencies with the authority to disregard the history of this stolen land and the dignity of undocumented people as they seek to avoid taking responsibility for the consequences of the very decisions that caused their mass migration in the first place. US foreign policy continues to cause forced displacement among the poorest, most vulnerable, and largely Indigenous people of Latin America.
Both are extensions of the same mechanism. It knows no bounds and finds ways to devour the marginalized. It tears families apart. It points the loaded weapon at us from all angles and commits acts of terror against women. It treats Black and Brown bodies as disposable. It shoots us while at school, at work, at Walmart. It lives in the discriminatory practices of our jobs while siphoning our talent, labor, and dreams. It lives every time people say go back to where you came from and leaves children in cages on one side of the border while stealing their parents from them on the other.
Many people being deported no longer have a home to go back to. No way to pay the debt they owe to the coyotes who arranged for their transport across the desert. Or they were sex trafficked. Or have gone missing. What about their loved ones? The human cost of citizenship due to the existence of borders and its justification as a means to subjugate is the great moral question of our time.
I became a naturalized US citizen in September of 2017. It cost my family and me, everything. For many mixed-status families this is a bittersweet accomplishment. The last two and a half years have been an eye-opening experience as I explored what it meant to be endowed with such a privilege for the first time. I remember being slightly older than little Bella and already beginning to feel conflicted about what it meant to be a Central American immigrant in America. No child deserves to spend their life emotionally fractured due to piercing policy shrapnel. We now see all the ways in which the United States continues to echo the tragic violence that haunts Tommy Orange’s seminal novel, There There, digitally and in high definition:
“They took everything and ground it down to dust as fine as gunpowder, they fired their guns into the air in victory and the strays flew out into the nothingness of histories written wrong and meant to be forgotten. Stray bullets and consequences are landing on our unsuspecting bodies even now.”There There by Tommy Orange
I thought that having papers would make the fear go away, completely. That I would feel accepted and be considered equal. I have come to understand that I am enough all on my own, that borders don’t define me, but being a part of my community does. I also realize that we are still fighting. So, I will keep documenting our story. Even as we continue to live on the run.