CONTENT WARNING: THIS BLOG POST DISCUSSES DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, IMMIGRATION, SEXUAL ASSAULT, AND TRAUMA
Yesterday, while I was writing an article on trauma narratives in media from a feminist perspective, my three year old son, Bug, came up and crawled onto my lap. He took my hands off my keyboard and wrapped himself in my arms.
“Will you protect me from the h-officers, mama?”
“I will protect you from the whole world baby. I will always do the best I can to keep you safe. Why?”
“I’m scared they’ll take you away”
“I will do my best to make sure that never happens, baby.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve had this conversation. My six year old saw a blip on the news about undocumented folk being arrested while taking their kids to school. She doesn’t want me to walk her to the bus stop anymore.
Children shouldn’t have to worry about these things. Our political climate has replaced the bogeyman with ICE for children of undocumented folks. That’s the hardest part for me to swallow — the fear that my immigration status leaves my children with.
I first came to the United States eight years ago. I was in an abusive relationship, though I didn’t realize it then. We were only supposed to be here for vacation — we were going to fly to New Mexico, then road trip throughout the United States before going home. I was so naive then. I felt so helpless. When I finally accepted that we would not be returning home, I asked my husband to file the necessary paperwork with immigration.
He took the money, repeatedly, and never once filed the papers. He stole my passport. He tampered with my birth control. I became pregnant with my daughter. It didn’t take long before the physical abuse started. I once again became pregnant, this time with my son. I was afraid to leave because I was undocumented. I was afraid to call the police, because I didn’t want to lose my children.
I finally left him three years ago this May. We’re still married. I’m afraid to file for divorce, because too often you hear about victims and survivors of domestic violence being arrested outside court rooms.
I can’t go home, because I need his permission to take my children across the border, so my only option is to stay here, in the US, as an undocumented person.
My family isn’t much different than yours. My oldest is in first grade. We go to dance classes every Wednesday. She loves science, especially anything to do with weather. She made up emergency plans for our family — in case we ever have to hunker down in the event of a tornado or hurricane. I don’t have the heart to tell her there aren’t any hurricanes this far from the ocean.
My youngest starts school next year. He’s a wild one, and he’s always running around my desk. His favorite show is Paw Patrol. He tucks his cars and trucks into bed every night.
Both my children are American citizens.
Our lives do look a little different though. I don’t take my children to school — I can’t get a driver’s license, and with the increase in undocumented folks being arrested and deported at pick up or drop off, it isn’t a risk we can afford to take.
I don’t have a traditional job. My background is in microbiology, but I can’t get a job in a lab because of my immigration status. I write for a living. Getting paid is complicated though, because I can’t open a bank account.
Tax time’s fun too. I still have to file taxes, when I earn enough. I always end up paying. I don’t qualify for a lot of the deductions low income Americans get.
I can’t get health insurance. Not without a social security number. I don’t qualify for medicaid, or food stamps, even though I make well below poverty level. I don’t get student loans, so I can’t go back to school and get my MD or PhD.
I was sexually assaulted last year. I couldn’t call the police. My rape kit cost me more than $1500. I don’t qualify for any programs to have that reduced because I am not here legally.
If I get sick, I can’t go to the doctor. It’s too big of a risk. Even if I could afford it, medical deportation is a thing.
I currently live with friends. We don’t have a lot of money, and I contribute what I can to the household. They run the risk of felony charges for harboring an undocumented person. Any friend who gives me a ride, invites me into their home, or otherwise has me in their presence could risk forfeiture of their vehicles, their home, and jail time.
One of my closest friends is getting married, and I can’t even go to their wedding. It’s in Arizona, and travel is dangerous, especially that close to the US/Mexico border. There’s places I can’t go because of my immigration status.
Deportation means I lose my children. It means they grow up without me. They know this, and it haunts their nightmares. My daughter doesn’t sleep when I leave the house. She worries I won’t come back. I can’t promise her I will.
People like me are often used as pawns in our political system. We’re expendable. We’re not people — we’re criminals. I don’t steal jobs or tax money. I don’t live here to mock the political system. I live here to love and raise my children. I have no real choice.
You do though. Please make the right one. Stand up for me, and for people like me. Give my kids hope.