It is difficult to express the anxiety, agony, and uneasiness of what and how I feel when I envision myself getting deported. For me, this is not a theoretical situation that some use to sympathize with immigrants facing our immoral immigration system. This is a very real, deplorable fate that I hope I never encounter. I have imagined myself being deported, leaving my mother, brother, sister, leaving the only country which I have ever called home, and losing my opportunity to obtain an education many times. The only thing that differs every time is how will it happen?
Miami has served me as a reminder of this reality which I often times forget in North Carolina. Unwanted, but necessary reminders that come in various forms that are quite unsympathetic and insensitive.
Lots of times, they come through translations I have to do between clients and their lawyers. Today, I had to tell a client that has lived in the United States for 18 years that he has reached the end of his legal path and must now decide between turning himself over to the Department of Homeland Security to be deported, or staying in the US and hiding from ICE. It was one of the most uncomfortable and sad translations I have had to make this summer. He did everything in his power to attempt to stay legal and remain in the US, but to no avail. If he leaves, he will also be leaving his daughter and grandchildren. The lawyer insistently kept asking him what he planned to do when the court denies his motion to reopen his case – as he already has a deportation order. The client did not know what he was going to do, and instead of understanding that an individual can not make such a drastic choice in a matter of minutes the lawyer got angry at him and kept telling him that he was an adult who needs to be able to make his own decisions. Right after this discussion, the client turned to me and started telling me how he can not leave his family, but he also can not imagine living in hiding, in fear of being detained by ICE. He kept telling me how the lawyer’s lack of sympathy was not making matters better. That he felt like this was just another immigration official accusing him and pressuring him to leave the US. I was surprised that he felt safe expressing these discomforts with me, since the lawyer was right in front of us, but I am grateful that he did. I could see him shaking with anxiety and truly empathize with him.
Being reminded of deportations at an immigration law organization is understandable. However, I would have never imagined that I would be reminded of being deported in a game. Especially not a game sponsored by DukeEngage and Americans for Immigrant Justice. The whole cohort participated in an immigration game that was a twist of the Life board game. I will not go into too much detail, but basically we all pretended to be immigrants with different immigration statuses and life stories, and then were presented with scenarios such as: (1) immigration knocks on your door (2) you vote illegally (3) you fraudulently use a US citizen’s identity (4) a Customs and Border Patrol agent racially profiles you. Each scenario basically resulted in either (1) nothing happening (2) your immigration status changes (3) you are placed in a detention center, and await deportation or place bond.
You would expect that the facilitators from Americans for Immigrant Justice would approach these scenarios with sympathy, since these are the realities that hundreds of thousands face in fear every day, right? Nope. They really found any way possible to joke about these scenarios which really lessened the seriousness of the lesson they were attempting to teach us about the immigration system. They quite literally made this a game where they pretended to be ICE agents and sent you to detention centers. You can imagine all the fun I was having as they announced very realistic scenarios, and joked, and sent us to detention centers. Love pretending to be deported! I’m obviously kidding. This was hell, and I hope that no other undocumented student, students with undocumented family, or student with any ethical guidance has to endure this “game” again in this program.
Deportation, detention, ICE agents, these are the ingredients of fear, trauma, and tragedy, not a game.