Being undocumented in this country means different things. For people like me, the worst aspect of having this identity was probably the fear of being forcefully removed from your home, family and friends by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). You learn to live with this fear and do your best to stay out of trouble to avoid those circumstances and remain for whatever purpose brought you here originally.
The purpose of this article comes from a reflection on my own experiences lately. Finding out that three of my closest friends here at college knew nothing about ICE was mind-blowing and surprisingly upsetting. Because I have known about ICE for as long as I can remember, and I have been paying attention to media and the sheer amount of arrests by ICE that have been occurring, I felt that their knowledge should be somewhat adequate given the current political climate and maybe even their relationship to me. But I was wrong, and it is also not their fault that they did not know prior to me directly asking them if they knew what ICE was. Yet, here I am, writing another article, hoping to reach more people and aiming to gain more allies, while being cognizant of the fact that lately undocumented people who have been speaking to media have been increasingly detained by ICE.
What is ICE?
ICE stands for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, aka la migra, aka the group that is in charge of actually deporting people. I want to also emphasize that they are not police. Because of the current struggle to stop criminalizing our communities of color and to foster increased cooperation with police as a result of this past year's conflicts regarding police violence and brutality that had produced so much grief for many communities across the country, it has been a priority for the Los Angeles Police Department to make this distinction and maintain trust with the local community. Mayor Eric Garcetti said the following to the LAist:
"We have worked for decades in L.A. to build stronger trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement. Misleading practices like these undermine the good faith and spirit of cooperation that is so integral to our city's safety and security."
However, increased ICE raids and presence have left the undocumented community more terrified than they were before. Because of this, many grass-roots organizations such as ICE Out of LA offer services to people so that they know their rights prior to an encounter with law enforcement (ICE) or can connect with people for help in case they or someone they know is at risk of deportation. It is my faith in this country that hopes that other cities are seeking to make this same distinction and that other organizations across the country are offering their undocumented communities appropriate services during these difficult times.
What does the increased presence of ICE mean for our communities?
I have already mentioned it briefly, but more ICE essentially instills more fear for many undocumented people in our communities. Being DACA-mented for a year now means that I have protection from being deported for a year now. Unfortunately, even this privilege has not been able to keep people like DACA recipient Daniel Ramirez Medina safe from being detained by ICE. Circumstances like these make the ambiguity of who is being targeted by ICE more stressful for the undocumented community at large. In my case, I always have the fear of my family being affected by an ICE raid at the back of my mind and even had nightmares about the possibility of that situation while I had the flu earlier this month. Knowing that raids were occurring locally in my hometown caused even more distress and I immediately told my family to be wary when I found out. I do not want what happened to this family to happen to mine or anyone else's.
What should we do?
My immediate reaction was to panic. It was not necessarily that it was surprising to me that this was occurring more often, but that it seemed to target the immigrant community as a whole. Whether it was a father being detained in front of his family after dropping off one of his children at school like in the video above or ICE raiding asian restaurants and detaining more than 50 people in Mississippi, it is clear that these raids have resulted in an atmosphere of fear and anguish throughout the immigrant community.
"Even if the detentions were the result of an investigation that predated the Trump administration, immigrant advocates questioned the timing and the nature of ICE’s searches, saying they had exacerbated fear across the community and raised concerns about lack of due process." – Los Angeles Times
The privilege of being in California as a student at the University of California, Los Angeles and embedded in a community that has a long history of immigrant activism is comforting and a privilege in a way. Being involved in the IDEAS organization here at UCLA has encouraged me to be an advocate for my community in new, different, inspiring ways because of our communication with grass-roots organizations. IDEAS stands for Improving Dreams Equality Access and Success and has been a trailblazer in the immigrant rights movement by giving a face and voice to the issues of immigrant youth on-campus, in the community and across the nation since 2003. Our organization and participation in marches and other awesome events that we have hosted to raise awareness to the struggles of the undocumented community at UCLA and externally in the Los Angeles community. Because of my involvement in IDEAS, I know to encourage people to go to Know Your Rights workshops, find spaces that will offer you resources to help you and your family, seek legal services or come up with a family plan in preparation for those worst-case scenarios while also pushing for your local government administration to provide more resources for you.
ICE has always been a force to be reckoned with. Families are being torn apart and children are worried about their futures because of this threat even more so nowadays. Hopefully we can all find the strength to lend others help and understand that the large-scale anti-immigrant sentiment that has evolved into more ICE raids has devastating effects on communities. For those of you who have undocumented friends or family, these are times where you need to reaffirm your solidarity and make sure that you are conscious of their situations. Don't get your undocumented friends in trouble. Be wary please and lend your support where you can so that there is not one more deportation.
Lead Image Credit: Bruce Emmerling via Wikimedia Commons