Juan Crow in Georgia
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From the living room of the battered trailer she and her mother call home, Mancha described what happened when she came out of the shower that morning. â€œMy mother went out, and I was alone,â€ she said. â€œI was getting ready for school, getting dressed, when I heard this noise. I thought it was my mother coming back.â€ She went on in the Tex-Mex Spanish-inflected Georgia accent now heard throughout Dixie: â€œSome people were slamming car doors outside the trailer. I heard footsteps and then a loud boom and then somebody screaming, asking if we were â€˜illegals,â€™ â€˜Mexicans.â€™ These big men were standing in my living room holding guns. One man blocked my doorway. Another guy grabbed a gun on his side. I freaked out. â€˜Oh, my God!â€™ I yelled.â€As more than twenty Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents surrounded the trailer, said Mancha, agents inside interrogated her. They asked her where her mother was; they wanted to know if her mother was â€œMexicanâ€ and whether she had â€œpapersâ€ or a green card. They told her they were looking for â€œillegals.â€
After about five minutes of interrogation, the agentsâ€“who, according to the womenâ€™s lawyer, Mary Bauer of the Southern Poverty Law Center, showed no warrants and had neither probable cause nor consent to enter the homeâ€“simply left. They left in all likelihood because Mancha and her mother didnâ€™t fit the profile of the workers at the nearby Crider poultry plant, who had been targeted by the raid in nearby Stilwell. They were the wrong kind of â€œMexicansâ€; they were US citizens.
Though she had experienced discrimination before the raidâ€“in the fields, in the supermarket and in schoolâ€“Mancha, who testified before Congress in February, never imagined such an incident would befall her, since she and her mother had migrated from Texas to Reidsville. Best known for harvesting poultry and agricultural products, Reidsville, a farm town about 200 miles southeast of Atlanta, is also known for harvesting Klan culture behind the walls of the stateâ€™s oldest and largest prison. But its most famous former inmate is Jim Crow slayer and dreamer Martin Luther King Jr. His example inspires Manchaâ€™s new dream: lawyering â€œfor the poor.â€
The toll this increasingly oppressive climate has taken on Mancha represents but a small part of its effects on noncitizen immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, and other Latinos. Mancha and the younger children of the mostly immigrant Latinos in Georgia are learning and internalizing that they are different from whiteâ€“and blackâ€“children not just because they have the wrong skin color but also because many of their parents lack the right papers. They are growing up in a racial and political climate in which Latinosâ€™ subordinate status in Georgia and in the Deep South bears more than a passing resemblance to that of African-Americans who were living under Jim Crow. Call it Juan Crow: the matrix of laws, social customs, economic institutions and symbolic systems enabling the physical and psychic isolation needed to control and exploit undocumented immigrants. Listening to the effects of Juan Crow on immigrants and citizens like Mancha (â€I canâ€™t sleep sometimes because of nightmares,â€ she says. â€œMy arms still twitch. I see ICE agents and men in uniform, and it still scares meâ€) reminds me of the trauma I heard among the men, women and children controlled and exploited by state violence in wartime El Salvador. Juan Crow has roots in the US South, but it stirs traumas bred in the hemispheric South.