The day I realized my parents weren’t safe in America, I was 10 years old and at the park with my family on a hot summer Sunday. My cousins and I were running around, spraying each other with water guns. My mom and aunts were cooking hot dogs and hamburgers while my dad and uncles drank beer and played Mexican cards. I heard the sound of the ice cream truck.
“Mami, I want ice cream!” I begged. Then I overheard the adults say something that made me curious.
“What’s ‘deported’?” I asked loudly so every grownup would hear me. They were talking about my uncle, who had gotten a deportation notice.
“Overhearing people’s conversations isn’t nice,” my aunt said. “Linda!” she called out to my cousin, who was 17. “Llevarla a comprar helado. (Take her to buy ice cream.)”
We walked to the truck together. I was suspicious because earlier my parents had said no to ice cream. Now I could have one. That word “deported” must be serious.
“Prima, what is ‘deported’?” I asked my cousin.
“I’m not sure, but I know it has to do with someone not being wanted in this country,” she said. I got my ice cream and thought, “If deported is someone who isn’t wanted in this country, then could my parents be deported too?” They had told me they came from Mexico but I didn’t know the full story of how they got here. My siblings and I were born in the United States. Later I learned that my parents are undocumented and do not have legal status here.
The sun went down and I got cold, so my mom took me to my uncle’s house to get changed into warmer clothes. “Ma, are we going to be OK?” I asked.
“I hope so,” she said. Her response made me feel I was no longer going to have a childhood and soon I would have to worry about adult things.
I wondered: How does deported work? Will it only affect my uncle or will everyone in our family be deported? What can I do about it? What will happen to me and my brother and my cousins? We were born here so we can’t be deported too, right? Or could we? When will this deported happen and where?
All those thoughts were going through my mind while we walked back to the park. Then my cousin James ran up and said, “Tag! You’re it!”
“Vete a jugar,” my mom said. (“Go play.”) I ran after my cousins and decided to stop thinking about the whole deported thing.
The next day when I got home from school, my mom was in the kitchen making tamales. I said hi and went into the living room to watch my favorite telenovela, Rebelde. A commercial came on about a lawyer helping immigrants. I heard the word “deported” again and I remembered what I’d heard at the cookout.
I Googled “deported” and learned that my cousin Linda was sort of right: it meant someone who came to the U.S. illegally and got caught. Then they were sent back to the country they originally came from. I finally decided to ask my mom what everyone had been talking about, and who was getting deported.
“Luz ya por favor, toda está bien,” my mom kept saying. (“Luz, that’s enough please, everything is going to be OK.”)
“Ma, I need to know. I can help!” I replied.
“Luzeli ya vete hacer la tarea,” my mom said. (“Go do your homework.”) She was annoyed because I was getting her mad while she was cooking tamales. In my family if you get my mother angry, the theory is the food won’t cook right. She gave me the look she only gives me when she’s about to scream at me.
I ran to the bathroom because I started crying. I felt angry and annoyed that nobody was telling me anything, because they thought I was too young to understand. Then I felt sad, because even though I’d told my mom I could help, I had no clue how. After I finished crying, I did my homework because I did not want my mom getting even more mad.
Is ICE Here?
A few weeks went by and I forgot about my uncle’s deportation notice until we went to Linda’s house. At first, it felt like a normal Sunday. My uncles and dad were watching sports on TV and my aunts and mom were catching up. Linda and I were playing with makeup and my other cousins were playing with toys or video games. Then we heard a knock on the door and the living room went silent.
“Go to your rooms and don’t make a sound,” one of my uncles said to all the children. I sat in Linda’s room. I thought: Is this what deported is? Is deported happening right now?
“You don’t think it’s them, do you?” I heard my aunt say. “Them” meant Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) coming to take my uncle away from us.
“I hope not, I’m not ready!” my uncle said.
“I’ll get it!” Linda said. The adults all shook their heads silently, because saying no would be loud enough for “them” to hear us. But Linda opened the door anyway. It was her friend Jessica.
“Did you know there’s been a man standing outside your door for like 30 minutes?” Jessica said. “He said nobody hears him ring the bell.” We hadn’t heard it ring.
It turned out that the man waiting there was my uncle’s lawyer. He peeked his head in the door.
“Don’t worry, I have good news,” the lawyer said. “Sir, you have been approved to get your working papers and then we can work on getting your residence papers. You are no longer in danger of being deported.”
I came out and everyone looked surprised because they thought I had been sleeping.
“Did you hear everything, Luzeli?” my mom asked.
“Yes Mami, I’m sorry but I didn’t mean to,” I said.
“See, I told you everything was going to be OK,” my mom said.
My Parents Could Get Deported
Six years later, my uncle has not received his residence papers, so he is still at risk of being deported. I understand getting legal status is a long process, but immigrant families can’t wait that long.
Now that I’m older, I have learned a lot about the immigration process and how recent Trump administration policies make it harder than it was when my uncle applied. For example, recently a 13-year-old girl from Honduras died after attempting suicide because her father was being held in detention after trying to cross the border to join her, and she was not able to see him. She got asylum to stay legally in the U.S. but he did not. He was arrested for the third time in four years for trying to cross the border.
Now that Trump has ordered an increase in ICE raids, I am constantly afraid of my parents getting a deportation notice. I know my parents are scared of us being separated one day too. I asked my mom what would happen to my siblings and me if she and my dad got deported, and she said that we would live with our godparents who are here legally. I know if that day ever comes for my family, I will have to find a job to support my younger brother and sister. I will have to be strong to take care of them.
On August 7th, ICE raided food-processing plants in Mississippi and arrested 680 undocumented immigrants. Their children wondered why their parents had not picked them up from school. Some of them slept in a local gym that night and strangers provided food for them. These children must be worried sick because they do not know what will happen to their parents.
I think people who want to see more deportations don’t understand the pain that the children of undocumented immigrants feel. These people probably get sad and start missing their kids when they’re away from home for a few days. Meanwhile, children who are separated from their parents have to figure out a way to take care of their siblings, pay rent, and other basic aspects of survival. They have to think about if they should stay here or go to their parents’ home country to be with them.
Sending away undocumented immigrants is not “making America great again.” Crossing the border illegally is technically a crime, but they are not hurting anyone. They just want to achieve the “American Dream” everyone talks about. Studies show that immigration actually strengthens the U.S. economy.
Proud Immigrant Daughter
My parents came to the U.S. because there are limited opportunities to earn a living in their country. My grandma was a single mother raising seven children on her own in Mexico and the only jobs that were available to her were growing crops and selling them. Most people in their town of Guerrero only got a 6th grade education because they had to pay to go to school after that, and they couldn’t afford it.
My dad made dangerous journeys crossing the border twice so that his kids could be well educated and get our dream jobs. So that we won’t be working “like a donkey” more than 16 hours a day, seven days a week for minimum wage.
Some people say, “Why don’t they just come to America legally?” “Wouldn’t that be much easier?” That seems simple, but in reality it’s not. Because of restrictive immigration rules, there are only a few ways to immigrate to the U.S. legally. You can be sponsored by your employer or a family member who is already legally in this country. You can be recognized as a refugee, which is a complicated legal process. Or you can get very lucky and win the Green Card lottery, a highly competitive process where people who apply from all over the world are randomly selected to become legal immigrants.
Even if you meet one of these conditions, you may have to wait a long time. For example, according to America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group, “If you are an adult child of a U.S. citizen, live in Mexico, and are not married, you would have to wait over 20 years to be sponsored by your parents in the U.S.”
Many immigrants can’t afford to wait. Would you stay where you are, knowing you barely have enough to get by each day? Would you struggle to find money to pay for lawyers and then wait years for a legal status that you might not ever get?
So people collect money to cross the border by selling their houses, chickens, pigs, and cows. One of my mom’s neighbors sold her Husky dog even though that was the last gift her father gave her before he died. It was hard but she needed the money. Coming this way is illegal, but it’s the only path they can see to a better life. I am proud to be a daughter of hardworking immigrants who risked their lives so that my brother, sister and I would have a better future.
You Can Help Immigrant New Yorkers
Many New Yorkers want to know how to help undocumented friends and neighbors. If you are a U.S. citizen and you see ICE stopping an undocumented person on the street, you have the right to observe and document what is happening. If you feel safe doing so, you can ask the agents what they are doing. You can take videos and pictures of the agent’s badge number and record the interaction.
Know Your Rights
Immigrants have rights. If you are stopped by ICE agents on the street, you are not required to answer their questions. You don’t have to provide any information or show ID. Do not say or sign anything without a lawyer present. If ICE knocks on your door, the agents are not allowed to come in without a warrant signed by a judge (and you have the right to demand to actually see the warrant), or unless an adult at home gives them permission.
For more information, visit on.nyc.gov/2yH1Nll