By Monica Sabella, TeleSur
A 14-year-old girl sits in a Texas detention center where she’s been awaiting deportation for almost two months, leaving her family behind for a future in a country she hasn’t seen in 12 years.
International Migrants Day
Meanwhile, along the United State’s borders, migrants and undocumented families live in fear of deportation, this girl is just one of the thousands. The world’s commemoration of International Migration Day every December 18th shines a special spotlight on the U.S. migrant crisis where aspiring citizens struggle to find peace as the future of vital government programs like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) leave the lives of millions hanging by a thread.
A steady flow of over 10,000 migrants cross US-Mexican borders annually, however, changes in policies have allowed enforcement agents to perform almost any methods to track down undocumented persons. From racial profiling to trumped-up charges, these have become accepted procedures in the pursuit of Trump’s dream to “Make American Great Again.”
“The atmosphere in the state has changed dramatically since Trump has become president. There’s this feeling like you don’t belong here anymore,” Dr Ingrid Rodriguez, Emergency Medicine expert from Toledo, Ohio said.
With the potential loss of DACA and other programs that protect migrant rights, the last year has been an unending series of frustration and drama for most migrant families. The lives built by immigrants, decades of hard work, struggle, and accomplishments and the promise of the future is left in the hands of the Supreme Court.
As thousands await Congressional decision which is expected to be announced before DACA expires on March 5, thousands more take their fight to the streets in rallies and protests and preparing for the worst.
“You want to be hopeful, you want to say, ‘Well hopefully they can get something,’ but you can’t really afford to take that chance. Because if they don’t, then what are you going to do?” said Maurizio Dominguez, a 29-year-old DACA recipient.
Recent debates on immigration reform have included proposals from the president, offering citizenship for DACA recipients in exchange for approval of a wall to be built along the Mexico-U.S. border, tougher enforcement and the switch from a chain migration- family following family into the country- to a merit-based system for immigration.
Incidents like the recent terrorist attempt on December 11th in a subway terminal in Manhattan only aggravate situations for immigrants. Almost immediately after the crudely-crafted bomb was detonated by Bangladeshi-native Akayed Ullah, 27, U.S. Press Secretary was speaking to the press attributing the incident to loose borders and inadequate immigration policies.
Trump seconded the motion, saying the system needed to be “fixed”, claiming the fault of the attack was due to chain migration policies. The issue with a merit-based system, as proposed by Trump, critics say, is the danger it places on the economy.
Over the last decade, 13 million immigrants followed their family members to the U.S., while only 15 were admitted by the green card based on skill.
“People that are wealthy and educated in our countries, they are not going to want to live here. That’s going to have a high impact on the economy if the people that work for lower wages there aren’t going to be many in the country to do the jobs that nobody wants,” said Dr Rodriguez, adding that the economy and food prices were likely to skyrocket as well.
Additionally, the state would stand to lose a considerable amount of money by permanently cancelling immigration programs for the millions of migrants in the country.
“They don’t tell you that all these billions of dollars they’re making off these renewals off of someone who is in Dream Act, that’s people paying thousands of dollars to get their DACA renewed every two years,” said Ofelia Torres, a former legal assistant and a community organizer at Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation.
“They’re not thinking in the future about what the economic impact these decisions are going to have,” Torres added.
However, the more recent changes to immigration policies have involved border agents holding children in detainment centers, using them to trace possibly undocumented family members. On arriving there to retrieve the children, parents and legal guardians are bombarded with questions and put under investigation.
“They are now beginning to prosecute (the children) with the immigrant parents. So if they have parents here, they are automatically getting thrown into the immigration system with them,” Torres said, adding that if the child is young enough, they may be sent to foster care, rather than deported, but it doesn’t happen frequently.
Torres explained that immigrant children will often be questioned during their court processes by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) about their home life, address, the number of family members in the home to accelerate investigations.
While on the city streets, police officers and Immigration put racial profiling into practice using arbitrary excuses to pull a car over and demand a driver’s license, Torres said. Statistics show over 100,000 arrests have been made since January, while less than a third of these individuals held criminal convictions.
“If you look at the data, immigrants are committing crimes and a much lower rate than people who have their citizenship or are residents here, because they want to be under the radar, they don’t cause any attention to themselves,” Edna Degollada, Civic Engagement Programs Coordinator for League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), one of the country’s largest and oldest Hispanic organizations.
“What you notice in the media is that they want to portray immigrants as criminals or they want to criminalize them for being here because of their status, but in the reality, that is not what the numbers are showing,” she said.
“They’re making the arrests really sound like they are criminals...but they’re not showing the numbers of these that are petty offences. They’re not misdemeanours, they’re not DUI’s, they’re not drug charges, they’re not sexual offences, they’re nothing but a busted headlight,” Torres said.
“Over the last year, I’ve gotten pulled over 3 times,” said Jessica Torres Carrillo, a Spanish teacher at Battle Creek Central High School. “All three times they asked my husband for his papers, of course, but they also asked me for mine. This never used to happen,” she said, adding that though she is a US-born citizen, her husband a DACA recipient have struggled with planning for the future.
“Our current administration has made the immigration issue much more difficult,” said Mary Carmen Munoz, president of a Detroit-based organization Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development (LASED). “The immigrant community as a whole, those that are documented or undocumented, are nervous,” she added, fearful for themselves and their undocumented family members.
Since the moment Donald Trump’s stepped into office, the number of immigration arrests have spiked, increasing by almost 50 percent due to government crackdowns. Families are left scrambling for lost paperwork and before being carted off to detention centers across the U.S.
“There were a few weeks right after Trump took power here in (Detroit, Michigan) that they were doing raids outside of restaurants and community areas, I mean, it was just full on panic,” said Dominguez.
“You would go to the supermarket and it would be deserted because people terrified to step outside,” Dominguez said, who traveled with his mother and younger brother from Mexico city at age 11.
“I had migrant workers in the (Emergency Department), who were afraid of telling me they were being physically abused because of fears of deportation. Some are victims of severe domestic abuse but remain silent. They do not contact the authorities when they have life-threatening injuries,” said Dr Rodriguez, who travelled to the U.S. at age 18 from Colombia.
However, the migrant communities across the nation are rallying, fighting fear with knowledge as local organizations lead movements to help prepare families with strategies in case of arrest or an ICE investigation in their home.
Law firms such as CAIR (Chicago’s Council on American Islamic Relations) among others across the country have lent their services and legal advice either pro-bono or at a discounted price to guide families through their court cases.
Churches have opened their doors to hold educational human rights courses and provide support and shelter for refugees, while other groups march the streets, taking their fight as far as Trump’s front door.
“I think there’s a lot of ignorance in our country about immigration…There’s a lot of insensitivity to the Hispanic community, these are young kids that are getting detained, these families moms and children are getting separated,” Torres-Carrillo said, adding that through these trials she’s seen the Latino community come together and feels they want the world to see the bigger picture.
“The process to come to our country legally is nearly impossible for an average working Mexican, Guatemalan or Nicaraguan, it’s very different unless you come from money,” the instructor said.
She concluded that, though there is no easy way out, if a more comprehensive approach were adopted, there would likely be fewer undocumented families around the country and no current immigration crisis.
“I’m just going to continue to work and continue to get my education and see what goes on from there,” said DACA recipient Martha Ruiz Toscano, 22, a physical therapy student at Henry Ford College in Michigan. "What else can I do?"