Just the other week, 680 people were deported from the United States, but one searches in vain for similar images. What we mostly see are pictures of a young man, alone, his head nearly shaved, photographed from the back, handcuffed and pressed up against the car waiting to take him away. These images support the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claims that nearly all of the deportees are men who have been convicted of felony charges. Bad dudes.
But a very different story has begun to emerge – of women with children, of hard-working men – people who have committed some minor infraction, or none at all, and who have been ripped out of their lives and sent to countries they left as children. The case of Guadalupe García de Rayos, separated from her two American-born teenagers and deported from Arizona to Mexico for the crime of using a fake social security number so she could work – received considerable attention.
A widely circulated photo shows Ms de Rayos behind bars, apparently in an ICE van: an isolated person and presumably, an isolated case. We have been reading about Jeanette Vizguerra, a mother of four who has sought sanctuary in a Denver church, and of an undocumented transgender woman in El Paso, arrested after seeking court protection from domestic violence.
If one lives in a large city, and has any connection to the immigrant community, one hears many such stories. And it’s only going to get worse. New rules issued by the Trump administration on Tuesday aim to deport more people, more quickly – regardless of the families that will be torn apart as a result.
A woman I know, who lives in Queens, became alarmed when her boyfriend failed to show up for work recently. It was 24 hours before she heard from him; he had been picked up by ICE agents during a random stop on the street – a practice, essentially a form of racial profiling, that ICE denies – and sent to the border city of Reynosa. (In the past, deportees had been transported to the capital of the state from which they came, but now many are simply being dumped across the border.)
An undocumented friend – who has been here for decades, who has no criminal record and who has, along with her husband, worked tirelessly to support her family – was recently advised to draft a notarized letter specifying who she designated to raise her three daughters in the event that she and her husband didn’t return from work, after ICE raids.
Unlike Trump’s ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries, which provided obvious and logical sites for protest – airport terminals nationwide – these arrests (secret, rapid, widespread) are more difficult for protesters to foresee and forestall. And many of the witnesses are themselves too frightened to protest, film, or otherwise document these seizures.
And so we are allowed and encouraged to go on believing that only “bad hombres” are being targeted. We are spared the images of the anguished mothers and fathers and their frightened children – of people very much like us. In fact, we are encouraged to believe that they are not like us.
Often, when one hears migrants defended, it’s because they make such a necessary contribution to our workforce, to our daily lives. But they are not merely workers who pick lettuce here, who wash the dishes in our restaurants, who clean the houses and mow the lawns of Americans. They are decent people who have come here not to sell drugs and join gangs, but to escape violence and poverty and to make better lives for their families. They are men and women who love their children, just as we do, who suffer the same sorrows and losses that we do, who cherish the same hopes and dreams.
There are numerous eyewitness accounts written by bystanders who witnessed the Nazi roundups of the Jews. Later, everyone would claim to have been sympathetic to the deportees, and all would insist that there was nothing they could do. They felt helpless, powerless; they were afraid.
It’s painful to think that we have become those bystanders. I, for one, refuse to believe that we are a nation of cruel and heartless people, lacking the basic sympathy, the courage and resourcefulness to protect the innocent and protest the violence and terror being visited – right here, right now – on our fellow human beings.