Undocumented and afraid: 'I don’t know how else to beg to be seen'

A local writer reflects on fear, family and fatigue as the Trump administration prepares to mount deportation raids in cities across the country.

In this file photo, a man walks by a framed poster of a U.S. flag inside the Tercer Dia restaurant in Covington, Ky., on April 28, 2018. (Photo by Gregory Bull/AP)

Editor's note: Trust and transparency are principles of paramount concern to Crosscut. In light of recent news about the Trump administration's plan to raid undocumented migrant families, we are taking the rare step of publishing an anonymous Op-Ed essay. The writer is an undocumented immigrant whose status could be jeopardized by the disclosure of their identity, which is known to us. We believe the essay provides a unique perspective we have not been able to provide to our readers before.

My oldest child, 10, is precocious, charismatic and bright beyond her years. She starred in her school’s play this spring and just finished The Hate U Give for Seattle Arts & Lectures Summer Book Bingo. My middle one, 5, is imaginative and delicate. Catch him on any given day as Alexander Hamilton or Batman. My youngest just turned 4. She insisted we celebrate with a unicorn tea party — exactly the kind of baby that makes “the baby of the family” a cliché. All three were born in the U.S.

Earlier this week, their president directed a large-scale rounding-up of undocumented immigrants across the country, planned for Sunday.

I was on my way out of town on a family vacation when the news broke, and as we waited for the announcement detailing which cities the raids would happen in, I wondered if I should stay out of town longer than planned. Should we find a hotel for two more nights? Can I afford missing another day of work?

My kids don’t know about this administration's plan to deport thousands of immigrants. I don’t tell them that one of those could easily be me. They’re young, after all, and my son cries when I wade too far out into the ocean. The only thing they’d hear is the fear.

It’s important that I tell you about my family before I tell you about myself. That way, they’re the ones you remember, if you never get through this. They’re the reason I’m writing this at all, that I asked for anonymity.

I arrived in the U.S. at 5 years old. My parents were graduates from a university in Japan. During the years they spent searching for a “professional” career opportunity, we relied on extended family and labored in the dry heat of apple season in Eastern Washington, alongside undocumented workers.

We’ve always known we were lucky.

We navigated the hall of mirrors that is America’s legal immigration system: submitting this change of status form before applying for that visa, appearing before this judge ahead of filing a motion with that other court, getting physicals and being fingerprinted at the will of the federal government. Then — in the shadow of 9/11, an unlucky time to be an immigrant — we were denied our green card application. Then denied three more times before being placed in deportation proceedings.

I’ve been in deportation proceedings or undocumented my entire adult life. I’m lucky enough to have a private, liberal arts college education that led to decent-paying jobs. I make enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment on the margins of Seattle. And I work in politics, which, at my most optimistic, feels like a kind of safety net, a small — maybe even perceived — protection afforded me by some proximity to some power.

Living in America in 2019 as an undocumented immigrant is like living any other ordinary American life: working, struggling to pay the bills, summer barbecues — except every other day the banality of living is punctuated by some cruelty that throws you into a spiral of fear, anxiety and, in my case and many others, depression. I heard a news report about Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s weekend plans on my way to the beach with my kids in the back seat, pretending to be unmoved. On the light rail, I heard the heartbreaking testimony of an asylum-seeking mother whose 19-month-old daughter died after being held in ICE custody. Between meetings, I come across the picture of a father and daughter washed up on the shore of the Rio Grande, their bodies not so different from mine.

I cry every time. I cry for them. I cry for my family. I cry because, from my position, crying sometimes feels like the only thing I can do. Then I cry because I know I’m luckier than most.

If I get picked up, the best case scenario is that I don’t see my kids for several months. The worst case is unfathomable — as in, I don’t really bother to try to conceive of the cruelty I’d be subject to.

This is the part where I urge you to flood the Department of Homeland Security with calls and emails, protest at detention centers and ports of entry, reach out to your congressional representative. But the truth is: my imagination is spent. That’s for you to figure out. I don’t know how else to beg to be seen — especially as I write this knowing my name will appear nowhere near it. It’s unclear how, in this context, to ask for mercy, grace, compassion. Not just for me, but for all.

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