Driven from every corner of the earth. . . direct their course to this happy country as their last asylum. Let us cherish the noble guests and shelter them.
— Samuel Adams, Speech Philadelphia (August 1, 1776)
It was an especially poignant performance. It didn’t affect very many people. That is because it took place in a small boarding school in the middle of Colorado. It was attended only by the faculty and students in the school, the parents who were able to attend, and the students who participated in the performance. It was a performance of Fiddler on the Roof.
Fiddler on the Roof was a musical that opened in 1964. It takes places in the town of Anatevka in Imperial Russia in 1905. It is a touching story of Tevye, the Jewish dairyman, and his family and his community, but at the end of the tale, the Russian constable comes to the village to tell the Jews that they are being expelled and have three days to sell or otherwise dispose of their belongings, and leave town. It is a desperately sad ending to a story filled with beautiful music and lovely tales of family and young love. It brought to mind other times, other places, and other families.
One such time: February, 2017; the place: Phoenix Arizona; the family: Garcia de Rayos, her husband and her children. Garcia lived in Phoenix for more than 20 years. She first came to the United States as an illegal immigrant when she was 14 years old. In 2009, she was arrested by the notorious Sheriff Arpaio and charged with criminal impersonation. After months of incarceration, she was freed and permitted to remain in the United States, subject only to the requirement that she check in with the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) every 6 months. She did as required, faithfully, and was permitted to stay in this country. Then a strange thing happened. A Strange Man, with the initials DJT, was elected president of the United States. Before he was elected president, he said, if elected, he would rid the country of illegal immigrants, describing them as “rapists and murderers.” After the Strange Man was elected president, he tempered his remarks somewhat. He said that his goal was to get rid of the rapists and murderers and not, one might assume by inference, people like Garcia. Anyone making that assumption would be wrong. In February, 2017, Garcia went to make her bi-annual report to ICE. Nothing had changed in her life since the one she had made 6 months earlier, except for the election of the Strange Man who wanted to get rid of rapists and murderers. Instead of being permitted to make her report and go home, Garcia was arrested and promptly sent back to Mexico. Her two teen age daughters are American citizens. They can stay in the United States. Garcia’s 14-year old daughter, Jaqueline, told reporters that if she could talk to the Strange Man, she would ask him why he took her mother away from her. “She hasn’t done anything wrong and I’m not scared of him.” Of course Jaqueline doesn’t have to be scared of him any more than the rest of us who live in this country and are United States citizens. Sadly, there are many people like her mother, like Jeanette Vizguerra.
Jeanette is 45-years old, and an undocumented immigrant. She lives in Denver, Colorado. She has spent 20 years working in the United States and has three children. Since living in the United States, she has been convicted of two misdemeanors, presenting false documents to police after a routine traffic stop, and reentering the country illegally after returning from her mother’s funeral in Mexico. In February, 2017, it was time for her to make her regular visit to ICE. She was afraid of what would happen were she to appear before ICE. She instructed her children what to do in the event of an ICE raid, stocked the house with food for them and left. She went to the basement of the First Unitarian Society Church in Denver, and moved into a basement room. Speaking to supporters she said: “I could be here days, months, or maybe even years.” That is where she now lives.
According to reports, the Obama administration’s priorities of deporting gang members and violent and serious offenders have been abandoned. All illegal immigrants, irrespective of their backgrounds, are now fair game for ICE agents. The Strange Man with the DJT initials addressed a group of manufacturing C.E.O.’s at the White House and told them: “You see what’s happening at the border, all of a sudden for the first time, we’re getting gang members out, we’re getting drug lords out, we’re getting really bad dudes out of this country, and at a rate that nobody’s ever seen before, and they’re the bad ones, and it’s a military operation because that has been allowed to come into our country [sic].” Someone should tell Jeanette and Garcia that they are drug lords and bad dudes. They might have trouble recognizing the Strange Man’s description of them. Garcia would envy Tevye. He was given three days to leave Anatevka. Welcome to the Strange Man’s Amerika.