This article first appeared in the Huffington Post.
Growing up undocumented, one of my biggest fears was being separated from my family. I remember the anxiety and worry I felt when my parents stayed out late. I was always scared that even the smallest infraction, like a traffic violation, would lead to them being deported.
As an adult, it pains me to see what is happening to this country. Undocumented families are threatened by the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies. It is especially painful to see the fear and anxiety that immigrant children in our communities deal with, growing up too fast because they know that at any moment they could be separated from their parents.
Last week, Paul Macancela, a 19-year-old student from Ossining N.Y., was supposed to graduate high school. Instead, he spent the day of his senior prom hiding from immigration officers inside a bedroom closet as they pounded on the doors outside.
Paul’s mother had been detained by ICE and he had spent the night at his relatives apartment, fearing the same would happen to him. On Thursday, his fears were confirmed, immigration officers were at his door, demanding that he turn himself in.
After the immigration officers threatened to break down the door, Paul decided to turn himself in rather than risk that his undocumented relatives also be arrested. He is being held at a detention facility in New York. His mother is held elsewhere.
Paul’s story is playing out time and again in communities across the country.
In South Florida, our diverse and vibrant immigrant families are also living with the fear that the Trump administration’s harsh, anti-immigrant policies will hurt them.
Last week, I spent the day with immigrant youth from the city of Homestead who are anxious and scared because of the rhetoric coming from the White House. I attended a workshop facilitated by Miami-based interdisciplinary artist Jamilah Sabur, a communications fellow at the Center for Community Change. She designed a workshop for children of undocumented immigrants to share their stories through art and build the power of their voice in the immigrant rights movement. Their stories and artwork were powerful in the way they illustrated how our nation’s cruel immigration system hurts children.
Lizeth, 15, made a black and white United States flag using “stream of consciousness words.” The result was a flag blanketed with words, such as fear, anxiety, tears and the statement, “Why lie and say there is freedom for all, when there is only freedom for your people?”
Lizeth explained how white supremacy was systematically targeting people of color in this country, saying “people who are not born in America are treated differently, like aliens… we have been label as criminals.” It is a sentiment that Donald Trump kick-started during his presidential campaign by calling immigrants from Mexico rapists and criminals.
Other pieces by the youth were uplifting and celebrated the pride they have in their roots and their new home in the United States. One piece of art showed the cut out of a Mexican woman with the slogan “Si se puede!” with the image of a double-sided tree, the top says “American grown,” and the bottom “Mexican roots.”
Ricardo, 19, whose parents are from Mexico, spoke about the anxiety he feels walking in the streets of Homestead, which has a significant Mexican community and has always seen a high level of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) presence. He fears that “being at the wrong place at the wrong time” will mean detainment or possible deportation for his family.
These youth have reason to be worried. Trump’s policies have trickled down to our local government. After the White House threatened to cut funding from cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agencies in the deportation of individuals, Miami-Dade County became the first jurisdiction in the nation to announce it would change its immigration policy and comply with the order.
The event in Homestead is one of many ways young people are raising their voices to be the next generation of community organizers. During the holiday season, children who form part of the “wish for the holidays campaign” took part in an office visit to Miami Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to demand he protect their families. After Miami Dade changed its immigration detention policy at the behest of the mayor, those same children returned to his office to let the Mayor know that he had broken his promise. They also joined a caravan to Washington D.C. to demonstrate outside of the White House.
It is difficult to see these children suffer many of the same fears I had growing up. These children have the weight of the world on their shoulders, anxious about the possibility that their families could be taken away from them. Our country is better than this; it’s time to step up and demand that immigrant children and their families be protected.
Thomas Kennedy is a communications fellow for the Center for Community Change.