As a dozen or so wild-eyed anti-government extremists laid claim to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon last weekend, the U.S. government looked the other way. Instead federal agents trained their sights elsewhere—targeting undocumented women and children for deportation.
A 32-year-old Salvadorian mother of four, Ana Urias, described to NPR how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents tricked her into opening her home to them.
Urias says ICE agents showed up at the door of her apartment in Atlanta at 11 a.m. Sunday, but she wouldn't let them in. Then they called her and said they were actually there because her ankle monitor was broken. So she opened the door. Once inside, they told her to get her kids together and go with them.
"They were very angry," she says. "They didn't give me a chance to do anything. I was in my pajamas and slippers. I said I wanted to call my lawyer. I didn't even have a chance to brush my hair. It all happened so fast. They fingerprinted me and took us to the airport.”
At the time of that report, Urias was awaiting deportation with her four children, aged 3 to 17, at a detention center in Dilley, Texas. If she is returned to El Salvador, where she fled gang violence, Urias is almost certain to face more violence and even death given the instability of the region.
As the undocumented—who otherwise pose no threat to their neighbors—were forcibly removed from their homes, a histrionic ex-Marine who chose to join the armed occupation in Oregon recorded a tearful goodbye to his family because, he said, he wanted “to die a free man.”
“It's gonna be one of the tougher videos I've had to make,” Jon Ritzheimer sniffed, addressing his wife and children as he stared directly into the camera. "Your Daddy swore an oath—he swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. And that's why he couldn't be with you on Christmas. That's why I can’t be with you on New Year's."
Unfortunately, Ritzheimer’s egomaniacal imaginary nightmare was becoming an actual reality for many legal residents and citizens grappling with the prospect of walking out the door one day never to see their family members again.
Juan Escalante, an immigration advocate and Dreamer with temporary deportation relief, wrote about having to finally level with his parents that he couldn’t shield them from deportation.
“Do you think ICE agents will come looking for us?” my mother asked before as I left their house.
As I stood in the driveway, visibly annoyed, I told my mother that nobody would be looking for her – and that whoever tried to deport her would have to go through me.
This is not an unfamiliar scenario. My parents have asked the same question to me since I was a senior in high school, and I have always put forth any type of answer that would appease their fear of being detained or deported.
But after Escalante received a text from his mother Tuesday night asking, “Are you sure ICE is not going to knock on my door?” he knew he had to come clean. His parents are, in fact, deportable “from the moment they wake up to the moment they fall asleep.”
What’s so stunning about these raids is that they’re both bad politics and bad policy, and President Obama knows it. Just a little over a year ago, the president urged the very people now fraught with worry to “come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”
“We’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids,” Obama promised on Nov. 20, 2014, announcing new programs to provide deportation relief for up to five million immigrants.
The disconnect between what the president pledged then and the terror he is now inflicting on those very same communities reminded me of the very moving words he delivered just last month at a naturalization ceremony.
Just as so many have come here in search of a dream, others sought shelter from nightmares. Survivors of the Holocaust. Soviet Refuseniks. Refugees from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia. Iraqis and Afghans fleeing war. Mexicans, Cubans, Iranians leaving behind deadly revolutions. Central American teenagers running from gang violence. The Lost Boys of Sudan escaping civil war. They’re people like Fulbert Florent Akoula from the Republic of Congo, who was granted asylum when his family was threatened by political violence. And today, Fulbert is here, a proud American.
We can never say it often or loudly enough: Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America.
According to one attendee at the event, some people were moved to tears by President Obama’s eloquence that day. Eight days later, news leaked of the raids that would commence just after Christmas.
Now immigrants are crying for a different reason. And it’s not because they want to “die free,” it’s because they want to live.