In America Black families have been torn apart through the unprecedented number of arrests and incarceration of Black males, and many other economic pitfalls designed to oppress them.
Recently we have seen that Muslims and members of the Jewish communities have been hit hard by racist terrorism attacks; this also includes Black communities.
Now we see that Mexican's have been hit hard as well with deportation and other attacks from racist/terrorists in this country.
What do all these groups have in common?
One common enemy racism and bigotry.
‘Bad hombres.” Those are the people Donald Trump says he is targeting for deportation under his immigration policy – the people he calls “illegal aliens”, the gangbangers, violent criminals and drug dealers who threaten public safety and undermine national security.
But a very different pattern is emerging on the ground. In communities from Maryland to California and Oregon, immigration lawyers are reporting that individuals are being picked up with minimal or no criminal records who pose no risk at all to anyone.
More than 90% of removal proceedings initiated in the first two months of the Trump administration have been against people who have committed no crime at all other than to be living in the country without permission. Early figures on deportation arrests show that the number of people with no criminal record who have been picked up has doubled, dragging people who were previously considered harmless into the deportation net.
William Stock, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said that Trump had clearly widened the focus, emboldening federal agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) in turn to expand their activities. “The Trump administration has expanded deportation priorities to anyone with a removal order, even where there are good reasons not to execute it.”
Bruce Coane, an immigration attorney operating out of Florida and Texas, pointed to a gulf between Trump’s rhetoric and practice. “The president says one thing and his homeland security officials in the field do something different. He says he is focused on serious criminals but Ice is deporting anyone who is undocumented.”
Ice told the Guardian that it is prioritizing cases that fall into seven categories, from those charged with a criminal offence to individuals who “pose a risk to public safety or national security”. But the agency pointedly added that “while criminal aliens and those who pose a threat to public safety will continue to be a focus, DHS [Department of Homeland Security] will NOT exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and removal from the United States.”
In other words, no one is exempt.
To explore the human toll of what appears to be a nascent but potentially significant redirection in immigration efforts, the Guardian contacted four families who have been tapped for deportation. Here are their stories:
A family ripped apart
Angel Ortiz, aged six, was getting ready to go to school when he saw Ice agents take away his father. Now whenever he watches Law & Order on TV he points at the screen and yells: “Those guys kidnapped my daddy!”
His father, also named Angel Ortiz, was getting into his car to go to work on a construction site last month when federal officials turned up looking for someone else. They asked Ortiz if he knew the man, and when he said no they checked his ID and found that he had entered the US illegally in 2000 and in 2008 had been caught drink-driving, for which he completed a spell of community service.
The Ice agents put him into an unmarked car and, under the eyes of his children – the younger Angel and his 14-year-old sister Adriana – they drove him away. The last time the kids and his wife, Francis, saw him was on 19 March.
In the process, an ordinary American family was shattered. Francis and the kids are all US citizens, and they live in a townhouse in Gaithersburg, Maryland. None of their neighbors knew Ortiz was undocumented – they only found out when he disappeared and his car stayed unusually in the drive.
Ortiz was known locally for his routines. Every morning for years he would leave for work at about 5.30am, stopping off at Dunkin’ Donuts without fail. He would return home in the afternoon to look after the children while Francis worked in accounts in a local business.
At weekends the family would go to the mall or movies. They’d have summer holidays at the beach – they couldn’t leave the country as Ortiz didn’t have a passport, but that was about the only thing that set them apart.
“There was nothing different about us. Just a regular family,” Francis Ortiz said.
Last month, Ortiz was put on a plane and sent back to Honduras, his native country that he hadn’t seen for 17 years. He’s living with his sister in the capital, Tegucigalpa, jobless and penniless, grieving the loss of his kids.
“It’s a hard time for me,” he says, speaking from Honduras. “I’m suffering emotionally and economically too – I’ve lived for years as a responsible working father, and now I can’t.”
Young Angel also spoke to the Guardian. “Ice police got my dad,” the six-year-old said. “It’s different now. I can’t play soccer with him.”
The Ortizes have already clocked up $16,000 in legal fees, and are being advised it could take five years or more before the elder Angel can make it back to the US with papers intact. “Five years!” exclaims Francis Ortiz. “I could suffer one or two, but five! Come on! I tell you, Trump is destroying my family.”
The cost of a driving ticket
When José Gutiérrez Castañeda turned up at the courthouse in San Bernardino, California, last month, he thought he was being a responsible member of society. He had a couple of overdue fines he needed to pay for minor car infractions, one for driving without a license, the other failing to get vehicle insurance.
Not exactly your average “bad hombre”.
But Gutiérrez Castañeda, a construction worker aged 32, hadn’t reckoned with Trump’s expanded definition of deportation, nor with the fact that federal immigration officials are now increasingly picking up individuals at courthouses as they turn up for legal hearings.
Within hours of his appearance at court, Gutiérrez Castañeda found himself in immigration detention facing removal from the country in which he has lived since he was 17.
“All this happened to me just for two tickets for driving violations,” Gutiérrez Castañeda says. “I’ve never been in trouble with the police, and I was going to court to settle my affairs – it’s all very confusing.”
For his brother-in-law, Ricardo Bernal, it’s even more confusing. It was Bernal who was driving when they were stopped by traffic police in February, yet Gutiérrez Castañeda was the one given a ticket.
“I don’t get it,” Bernal says. “He’s a family guy, a hard worker. He provides for my sister, but now she’s lost and has no idea how she will get by.”
Gutiérrez Castañeda was released from detention last week on $7,500 bond and must present to the Ice office in San Bernardino in the next few days to learn his fate. He is braced for being detained again and this time ejected from the country.
Should he be evicted he will have to leave behind his one-year-old daughter and wife Dulce, who came to the US as a child and was granted temporary legal status as a “Dreamer” by Obama.
So what would Gutiérrez Castañeda say to Trump were they face to face? “All I want, Mr President, is to work to support my family. I’m grateful to this beautiful country for giving me the chance, please don’t take it away.”
‘Grow a little love in your heart, President Trump’
Rómulo Avelica-González with his daughters Yuleni, left, and Fatima, right, and their running medals. Photograph: Courtesy of the family
It’s been over a month since Fátima Avelica watched Ice agents, wearing uniforms stamped “POLICE”, handcuff and arrest her father, and the pain of that moment still lingers. She remembers the unmarked car with the black tinted windows that followed them on their way to school in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.
The 13-year-old recalls asking the officers why were they taking her dad, and their answer: “We can’t answer questions from you.”
She recollects him shouting to her to record the event on her phone, and her doing so, the sounds of her uncontrollable weeping on the back seat of the car captured for posterity.
“I was very upset,” she said, looking back on that day. “I was thinking would I ever see my dad again. I was very sad, but I still decided to go to school.”
Since that day in late February her father Rómulo Avelica-González, 48, has been detained in the Adelanto detention facility north of LA. She has seen him, twice, though she said she found the environment of the facility and the orange jumpsuit he is made to wear hard to stomach.
“To me it looks like a prison. It surprises me that as soon as you go in to hug him, and sit down, they say you cannot touch him.”
On the brighter side, the footage of her father’s arrest that she captured has helped to arouse support from the family, both local and nationwide. The National Council of La Raza has taken up their cause and recently arranged for Fátima to address a news conference on Trump’s immigration policy in Washington held by the top Democrat in the US Senate, Chuck Schumer.
But with Avelica-González still facing removal to Mexico, the country he left 25 years ago, it remains tough for Fátima and her three sisters, all of whom are US citizens. She’s worrying a lot about what would happen to her should the deportation go ahead.
“I’m about to go to high school. My dad was always with me through my school years, I don’t want to end it without him.”
As for the message coming out of the White House, in her view it is unfair. “The president has to grow a little love in his heart,” she said. “He has a family too. Would he feel the same way if his loved ones were taken away from him?”
Mexican? I’m a Portlander
This is how Mexican Francisco Rodríguez is: he speaks English most of the time and his Spanish has grown sketchy. He hasn’t left the United States for the past 20 years, since he came here from Michoacán when he was five years old.
He works in the same school in Portland, Oregon, that he attended as a kindergartener, mentoring children, and coaches an after-school soccer team called the Grizzlies. He is a big fan of the Portland Timbers MLS club, volunteers at his church and helps run a food pantry for low-income children.
“This place is all I know,” he says. “I grew up here. It’s my home.”
On 26 March, Ice agents came knocking on his door. Literally. It was early on a Sunday and he was still asleep. They knocked so loudly and for so long that he got up and did what immigration lawyers advise you never to do – he opened the door and stepped outside.
He didn’t think twice about it. After all, he was a “Dreamer”, one of the undocumented immigrants who had come to the US as kids and who Obama had granted temporary legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program. Even Trump had said he would “work something out” for those Dreamers like Rodríguez and leave them alone.
“We’ve never seen a roundup of Daca recipients like what we’ve been seeing in recent weeks – it’s the fallout from Trump’s dangerous rhetoric around immigration,” said Mat dos Santos, legal director of the ACLU in Oregon.
In Rodríguez’s case, Ice latched on to a drink-driving incident from last year. It was treated as a misdemeanor, and he was about to finish a diversion program which would have expunged all mention of it from his record, but it was deemed enough in the age of Trump to have him picked up and held overnight.
Now he’s out on bond, but with the threat of deportation still hanging over him. He says his identity as a Dreamer is now all the more important to him: “My life here is all we know and all we have ever known, and that dream is slowly being torn from us.”
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