The Deported: Heartbreaking Stories of Undocumented Immigrants
At last, a book written by the people experiencing the injustices of our broken immigration system. While I wish there was no need for it, Dreams Deported: Immigrant Youth and Families Resist Deportation, edited by Kent Wong and Nancy Guarneros, is an important third installment in the UCLA Labor Center’s groundbreaking work to center the experiences and efforts of undocumented immigrants, particularly in an academic context where there remains a void of literature written by and for the undocumented community. Stories of people facing and fighting deportation are told with the heart and depth that is sorely missing in mainstream media today. The authors write of the heartbreak from and resistance to deportation through the lens of families, who truly lie at the core of the destruction that deportation brings to immigrant communities.
It’s no surprise that unjust policies are behind the mass deportation crisis, which are outlined for readers in the book’s introduction. Secure Communities, the federal policy that began in 2008 allows local police forces to share information with federal immigration enforcement has both eroded trust with law enforcement locally and increased the deportations of people who are often the backbone of our communities, economy and country as we know it. Since Secure Communities began in 2010, 79% of people deported have been “non-criminals or were picked up for lower level offenses” such as driving without a driver’s license. And shocker: this issue does not only impact undocumented folks (Wong & Guarneros, 2015). Underscored in the introduction is the fact that many families are “mixed-status,” that is, they have family members who have a combination of immigration statuses, ranging from undocumented to U.S. citizen with everything in between. A staggering 100,000 parents of U.S. citizen children have been deported in the last ten years and there are approximately 4.5 million U.S. citizen children with at least one undocumented parent. In “Part I: Stories of Deportations”, the authors eloquently depict the human toll that we should be unwilling to tolerate, the pain and suffering of families, and in “Part II: Stories of Resistance”, we see the tenacity and love that spurs young activists and their families to fight for each other and their future.
“The last memory Adrian has of his mother on that early morning is of her being pushed into a van by a US immigration agent. Adrian recalls feeling a deep sense of despair; his mother was being taken away from her children, and there was nothing they could do to stop it.” Not exactly what you hear in the news. This personal story-telling in “Part I: Stories of Deportation” confirms and goes beyond the statistics and is what makes this such an important contribution to the movement. Human beings are so much more than statistics and must be treated as such. There are still no due process rights for folks in deportation proceedings. This is wrong. The families who bravely share their stories illustrate the very real fear that current immigration policies foment in the daily lives of undocumented folks and the unnecessary pain that deportation causes. The connection between these traumas and the rise of Secure Communities reminds us that this is a political issue that requires engaged and sustained direct action.
“It’s not an easy fight; it takes energy, commitment, love, and it can be absolutely terrifying not knowing when we will win or what we will win. I know for certain that we will need others to fight by our sides for the dignity and respect our families, our communities and all the people we love deserve.” We hear about the odd hero, but what “Part II: Stories of Resistance” confirms is that there are many ordinary people out there fighting, day in and day out, like Renata Teodoro quoted here. Renata’s mother was deported and together they courageously took part in an action where they reunited at the U.S.-Mexico border, separated by huge metal bars, a clear display of the absurdity that physical borders continue to separate families.
From individual stays of deportation to the landmark wins of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), the first relief that immigrant communities have seen in decades, these have been hard-won by the direct action of those most immediately affected, like Renata and her mom. This resistance comes from both frustration with how current policies are impacting daily life, but equally and importantly, from a profound love of family and community and desire to see a better future, arguably the foundation of the immigrant experience in the United States. Out of the suffering described in depth throughout the book, people across the country connected with one another, organized, and found the power and the strength to fight back. We are reminded that we are winning before policy wins even happen, because the foundation for a new American politics and identity are happening in the relationships and solidarity built in the movement for immigrant justice.
Presidential debates notwithstanding, the immigrant story is as diverse America itself. Dreams Deported exemplifies this in the inclusion of a diversity of stories and families impacted by deportation, including Armenian, Korean, Mexican, and Indian. Storytelling is the key strength of the Dream movement that won DACA in 2012 and subsequently DAPA in 2014. When the multifaceted stories of Dreamers and their families are told, we are able to unravel the stereotypes and misconceptions that are so readily thrown about what being “undocumented” looks like. The authors also challenge readers to look at deportations from the perspective of a family, of a collective, and to remember that it is not just 315,9431 people (the number of people deported in 2014), for example, but 315,943 families impacted by deportation. The inclusion of diversity and widening the scope of impact that deportations have will make Dreams Deported an important resource for years to come.
In the context of the 2016 Presidential election, the risk is high. The families featured in this book, like the millions who live every day with the threat of deportation, remain in jeopardy from Republican control at all levels of government who threaten to roll back gains and make life even more difficult than it already is. The pain and fear associated with these threats cannot be overstated. Sadly, we have seen undocumented immigrants used as scapegoats yet again for the most basic fears about the economy and the “other”. DACA urgently needs protecting and DAPA has yet to be implemented due to nothing short of overt racism. We all benefit from the contributions of our undocumented neighbors and have a responsibility to resist these attacks alongside them. Dreams Deported is required reading for anyone interested in immigrant and civil rights as it has living lessons to learn from as we prepare for the work ahead. What the families and activists who shared their stories here remind us is that we must continue to fight, albeit fiercely, with deep love.