America's fear of deportation:
being undocumented under a Trump presidency
As a journalist, I’ve had to write many stories about deportations that have torn families apart and sent young undocumented immigrants to restart their lives in a country unfamiliar to them. A secret I've kept for the past twenty years could make me go from the one covering the story to the headline. I'm an undocumented immigrant and, under a Trump presidency, that is a terrifying thing to be.
I was brought to the United States two decades ago. At nine years old, I had no say in the decision, nor did I want to be left behind while my parents came looking for work in California. My father was a farmer in Mexico. After several years of failed crops, financial drought, and countless nights of sending me and my siblings to bed hungry, he decided to find a solution. He realized the only way he could give our family a future was to come to the United States. It was always his dream to come to America and it’s the reason why he named me America.
by America Arias
America standing next to her little brother on her third birthday in Michoacán, México.
America graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 2009. She was the first in her family to graduate from college.
He left us in 1995, seeking to turn that dream into reality and braved the treacherous desert to cross to the U.S. A year later, he returned to Mexico to bring all of us to “El Norte.”
Two buses, one flight, and seven hours later, we arrived in Tijuana. Immediately after we got off the plane, a police officer my father knew set us up with a “coyote” who would smuggle us into the United States through Tijuana. I remember meeting that strange man and then, my parents leaving me and my two siblings behind with him.
I felt like a tiny ant that had just been asked to carry an SUV. The monumental responsibility of making sure my five-year-old brother and four-year-old sister survived crossing the border gave me immeasurable anxiety. The extreme sadness I felt over the possibility of never seeing my parents again gave me a huge lump in my throat. They were going to cross separately. I remember feeling like my breathing couldn’t keep up with my beating heart. I felt so out of sync and so out of control of my emotions and the situation.
The man took us to a hotel room where I met his wife and dozens of kids younger than me. The woman made me take off the embroidered dress my grandmother made me, and slip into jeans. All around me, kids were transforming into “Americanized” versions of themselves. They giggled at each other. 'There is nothing funny about all this', I thought, as I watched my brother and sister like a hawk.
The coyote couple took kids out of the hotel room in groups of three. When it was finally my turn, I insisted my siblings came along. We crossed through the San Ysidro pedestrian border crossing. It was easier than I thought it would be. But it was the drive away from the border that scared me the most. The border patrol helicopters overhead made me feel like we were being chased. Even after the Coyotes were paid off and all three of us were safely inside my aunt’s apartment in Orange County, I still felt paranoid. As if, at any moment, someone could drop from the sky and take us away.
That feeling of uncertainty came flooding back when I returned to the border last month. I was covering a reunion between two daughters and their mother at “Friendship Park” along the Tijuana/Mexico border. I was driving towards the fenced reunion site when the sound of five border patrol helicopters flying above us triggered the painful memory. As if that wasn’t enough, there was a patrol car closely tailgating my car. It was all too much to bear.
I’m educated, tough, and 'chingona' but this experience reduced me to my fearful nine-year-old self. Thanks to President Barack Obama’s DACA policy, I have protection from deportation and permission to work legally in the U.S. But the thought of being detained and deported scared me beyond reason. I was no longer in the safety of my newsroom, writing about people facing deportation. I was literally living the danger.
This fear has heightened since Mr. Trump was elected. The threat of him undoing Obama’s executive actions to protect young immigrants like me, is now real. The possibility of Trump deporting me, or a family member, is bringing back thoughts I had been suppressing for years. What would happen if my parents were sent back to Mexico, and I had to take care of my, now three, younger siblings? I know what that feels like, and I don’t want to relive it ever again.
What if I get deported and all my hard work to become the first in my family to graduate from college and launch a successful journalism career went down the drain? And what would I do to make a living in Mexico? The country is as foreign to me as Syria is to the average American. My Spanish is great, but not perfect enough to land those scarce coveted jobs in Mexico. I can’t imagine calling Mexico my country. I was born there, but the U.S. is my home, and the idea of leaving everyone I love behind and starting over again is depressing.
Luckily, these thoughts are just worst-case scenarios for me, at least for now. But for Amy Torres, her sister, and their mother, this is their daily reality. Covering their story made me confront the painful possibility that this could be my future under the Trump administration.
It would be heartbreaking if I couldn’t hug my
mom or dad again because a chain-linked fence stood between us. I have kept my immigration status quiet for a long time because I feared coming out of the shadows would put me at risk of the same outcome I’m trying to avoid now. But I came to the realization that President Trump doesn’t care whether I speak out or stay quiet. If he wants to take DACA away from me and the hundreds of thousands of other recipients, and deport us, he can. So I’m not going to be silent anymore. After all, as a journalist my job is to give a voice to the voiceless and right now, I need to be heard.
The undocumented immigrant you know may be a hard-working gardener or house-keeper who speaks limited English. But we’re also Emmy-award winning journalists, college educated professionals, veterans, and people who love and contribute to this country, not people who cheat the system.
I try to convince myself that everything will be alright and that President Trump won’t undo all the sacrifices my parents made to bring me to the United States, but the threat grows with each day. All I can hope for is that Mr. Trump would care more about my contributions to this country than about me crossing the border illegally as a child to seek a better future.
If only he recognized that my parents have paid taxes every year for the past twenty years, and that I paid for college all on my own without asking the government for a penny. If somehow I could convince him and his supporters, who utter the words 'go back to where you came from,' that I am as much from here as they are, that I believe in the American dream as much as they do, and that this land is fruitful enough to turn the dreams of millions of us in the shadows into a bright reality.