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What It’s Like to Grow Up Hunted

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

It was a quiet Sunday night when my dad told me to hide in a closet — and stay there until he said to come out.

As I sat in the dark, I knew this was part of my life, part of my identity. The darkness and fear slowly penetrated my heart.

I tightened up my fist, as if to squeeze the bravery I had in my heart to walk out of the closet. My brother and sister were hidden somewhere else, and all the lights were out.

I stole a glance at the living room and saw my parents nervously looking outside. I looked up to the ceiling and saw the sinister blue and red lights of cop cars outside. My father caught me and told me to go back and hide.

I was young, but I understood exactly why my dad hid me. We lived for many years afraid of cops, because for us the police and Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) were the same. And as an immigrant family, contact with ICE could mean being separated.

My family and I came to this country for simple reasons: We had no food and no jobs, and we  needed to survive — just like many other undocumented families here.

Living in fear of deportation became a norm that was drilled into my mind, body, and spirit. I was just 10 years old, and I had already four plans for what to do if one day my parents or I got deported.

Recently, ICE conducted its largest in over a decade, arresting 680 fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and neighbors at a chicken processing plant in Mississippi. For many children the nightmare I always prepared for became true.

Hundreds of families were cruelly separated, and for what? Just for going to work, so the average American has their chicken ready to eat?

Trump’s inhumane “zero tolerance” policy has separated and locked up at least 2,654 children, according to the ACLU. The administration deported another 722,459 people between 2016 and 2018.

Thousands of families have been separated and locked in concentration camps. United We Dream’s abuse tracker has collected hundreds of cases from camps like these of inhumane treatment, confiscation of medicine, unsanitary conditions, abuse, and deaths caused by ICE and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

Not only has Trump’s hateful rhetoric manifested through policies, but also through physical street violence.

After posting an anti-immigrant manifesto — whose language mirrors Trump’s own rhetoric — a white male in El Paso went into a Wal-Mart and killed 22 people and injured 24. Not long before, at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, another white male killed three people and injured dozens after posting anti-immigrant sentiments on social media.

As of 2017, the FBI had recorded 7,100 hate crimes — a 17 percent increase — since Trump’s election.

No family, no child, and no human deserves to be dehumanized like we have been by these anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric. As we look towards 2020, we must organize and stand strong.

What can you do?

Organize to close the concentration camps across the country. Call your representative and demand they defund ICE and CBP. Distribute “Know Your Rights” information to make sure undocumented families know how to defend themselves from the injustices of ICE.

Together we can do more than abolish ICE. We can create a future that centers our communities and prioritizes their humanity over anything else, regardless of where they were born.

And we can make sure no more 10-year-olds have to hide in closets.

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