“Y los DREAMers, cómo están allá?”
“And the DREAMers, how are they doing over there?” my dad asked me over the phone two days following the Sept. 5 announcement that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will be phased out. On March 5, 2018, DACA will be effectively terminated. Next year will also mark 10 years since my dad was deported from the United States. After I moved from our home in California to Georgia for graduate school, my dad started religiously watching the news to stay up-to-date on events unraveling in the U.S. and Georgia. He is far too familiar with immigration law, isolation and the psychological implications of deportation. His interest in the well-being of the undocumented and immigrant community in the U.S. and Georgia is one that we both share — because we cannot shake the memories of police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids that separated our family and marked our lives with perpetual fear.
I come from a family with mixed citizenship; my mom applied and successfully obtained her U.S. citizenship status, but many years ago my dad lapsed in renewing his visa. I have the privilege of having been born in Los Angeles and so I identify as an UndocuAlly. After I witnessed my dad’s deportation, my mom’s depression, my grandma’s breakdown and my family turn pain into resilience (again), I hope that no one would ever have to live through the same experiences. I wish we were the last family to be torn apart. Unfortunately, that has not been the reality, and after the 2016 presidential election, I have been in a perpetual state of nervousness, anticipating a citizenship cleansing in America.
The word “deportation” is fundamentally different for those doing the action and those on the receiving end. Deportation has become a quick fix for the removal of unwanted immigrants and/or persons of color. Some detainees report that officials fail to provide adequate translation resources to non-English speakers. According to a class action lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, some report being tricked into signing voluntary departure papers. Persons of color are targeted by ICE and police, and some have been wrongly deported regardless of their citizenship status. Deportation changes have also caused the rate of arrest for persons without a criminal record to double; many immigrants are deported to Mexico regardless of their country of origin and the onus of support services has been left to nonprofits and volunteer organizations. When deportees step off the buses or airplanes of ICE, they lack knowledge about what rights and services are granted to them in the country they’ve been deported to. Deportees have difficulty obtaining work, housing and validation for educational degrees, and rates of violence, crime and abuse are higher for recent deportees.
For my family, deportation meant becoming emotionally strong and choosing which holidays to spend with our undocumented family in the U.S. and which to spend with our deported dad in Mexico. The silence of deportation is the most piercing. No one talks about deportation as a reality. It is treated as a threatening possibility, but for thousands of families, deportation is already a part of their lives. I have seen the effects of deportation manifest in my family as depression, insomnia, anxiety and isolation. My dad has had a long history of high cholesterol, and, after his deportation, he suffered a stroke. Multiple physical and mental health issues prevented him from working, and he now depends on the rest of the family for financial support. These are not normal nor humane living conditions.
It took me a long time to confront the feelings I had 10 years ago — when my dad was deported — because I had not been able to accept the depth of my family’s situation. Our resilience and compartmentalization of emotions allowed me to deny that my family was being affected by deportation. I stayed away from protests, focused on my allyship to DACA recipients and undocumented youth and even supported friends whose parents were also threatened by deportation. I didn’t want them to have to live my life. At the back of my mind, I always had plans to bring my dad back. Last November, this hope that I always took for granted slipped away and was replaced by a churning in my stomach. After the election, I realized that any possibility of bringing my dad back would have to be postponed, that I couldn’t deny how affected my family and I were and that more people that I love and care about have been branded with targets on their backs.
Since 2012, organizations and individuals have fundraised for DACA renewal applications, which cost $495 per recipient; associations have scheduled legal clinics; and organizations like the Atlanta-based Freedom University have collected book donations for the continual support of immigrant students’ academic successes. Just as important is increasing your own understanding of colonialism and capitalism’s creation of migration, how the terms “citizen” and “immigrant” were constructed and the millions of stories from immigrant communities.
If you want to be an effective ally, read about the federal and state policies that impact undocumented students (Plyler v. Doe, the DREAM Act and DACA). Show up to rallies, press conferences and vigils where allies are welcomed and respect the spaces and events where you are not. It is never safe to to assume how individuals want to be supported. If they want to be supported at all, take the time to listen and don’t assume you know how to support them. Abstain from tokenizing one experience you have heard and applying it to the rest of the community. For more on allyship, look at NPR’s “Safety-Pin Solidarity: With Allies, Who Benefits?”
Being affected by deportation has brought about an understanding that allyship means being able to risk and sacrifice the privileges you have. It means putting your actions — not your social media accounts — where your politics are.
Isabeth Mendoza is a second-year graduate student from Los Angeles.