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Our Everyday Family Separations

The family separation crisis is not over. This summer marked a national outcry over Trump’s brutal immigration policy, which tore families apart and imprisoned innocent children and their parents for the mere act of crossing the border. The family separation crisis did not start there. For us, the children and family members of undocumented immigrants, the fear of separation has been ever-present and all-consuming.

Growing up I felt trapped. I felt like my family and I were living in constant fear, in hiding. I was six-years-old when I learned what it meant to be undocumented. I’d gotten sick in school that day. I waited at the front desk for my mom to pick me up. She arrived and I jumped into her arms. Then the administrator asked who she was, she asked for an ID card. I translated for my mom, who took me off her hip to get her Consulate ID card from Mexico. The administrator told her that it was a fake, that she wouldn’t sign me out because she couldn’t confirm that she was really my mother.

I started breathing heavy and crying — I couldn’t tell my mom that I wasn’t allowed to leave with her. When I did, my mom became pale. I ran and latched to my her legs. The monitors came over and pulled me off her. I remember screaming “That’s my mom! She’s my mom! Ma diles por favor no me abandones.” I felt like I was going to be separated from my mom forever.

We cried when we finally got to hold each other at the bus stop after school. She said she was sorry. I asked her why, if it wasn’t her fault. She said to me “Vane nosotros no tenemos papeles haz de cuenta que no existimos,” (We who do not have papers, do not exist).

I told her she was silly and started laughing. My mother always made jokes when I would get hurt and try to make me laugh it off. I thought it was one of those times again, but this time she wasn’t laughing with me. She started explaining how she came to the U.S. crossing the border with my siblings. She told me that if anyone was to find out, she and my siblings would get sent back to Mexico. She told me to never repeat it. That was when I learned what it meant to be undocumented. That was when I found out what it meant to be practically invisible in this country. From that day on, I lived in fear that I would return to an empty home.

Without a government-issued ID, families are forced to go through pain like this every day.

That’s why my mother decided to take action and fight back. She joined Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, an immigrant-led grassroots organization based in New York State’s Hudson Valley. Then she got me to join, too.

We want to realize a world where immigrants no longer live in the shadows and where people are put before profit. We know that is going to be a long struggle and that we can’t wait until then for real changes in our lives. The stakes are too high to wait.

We need policy on the local level to support immigrants now. And that’s where municipal IDs come in.

Cities all the way from San Francisco to New Haven have started issuing municipal identification cards in order to improve access to critical services and prevent interactions with the police from escalating into deportations. We started fighting for municipal IDs in order to protect undocumented immigrants like my mother and keep families like mine together.

On July 9th at the Poughkeepsie City Council meeting, the common council unanimously passed Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson’s municipal ID legislation. Poughkeepsie became the second city to implement a municipal ID program in New York State, and the first in the country to pass the legislation with a Republican mayor in office.

And Poughkeepsie is just the beginning. At Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, we’re working to get this legislation passed in six more cities across the Hudson Valley to improve thousands of immigrants’ lives. We’re getting close to a vote on municipal IDs in Beacon, Kingston, and Middletown. We’re working to build the people power we need to win change at the state-level, so that all New Yorkers can access driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status. We’re working to build the immigrant-led movement we need to keep all families together, abolish ICE, and create a world where all of us can live and move and love and work in freedom.

Winning a Poughkeepsie municipal ID is not the end, but it is significant. This victory means that my sister will be able to pick her children up from school if they are sick, that she will be able to get them the medicine they need. This victory gives us a glance into the potential that lies in our collective power. It reminds us that when we fight, we win. And right now, that is more important than ever to remember.

Our outrage over the family separation crisis is righteous — but I want it to grow. I want our outrage to expand to the family separations caused by workplace raids, by detentions, by deportations, and by the everyday obstacles that undocumented people are faced with. But more than anything, I want our outrage to transform into action.

Vanessa Cid was born and raised in the Hudson Valley, her roots are Mexican, and her mother’s community organizing grounds her in social change work. As a Program Associate at Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, Vanessa is fighting for a world where immigrants no longer have to live in the shadows.