By Japhet Matias Perez Estrada
U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement made a wake up call to our region in March when 115 men and women were deported from San Diego and Imperial counties in what ICE termed a successful operation to “target public safety threats.”
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Of these 115 arrests made over a three-day span, four will face federal criminal prosecution for illegally re-entering the country after prior deportation. The worst of the worst were targeted: gang members, murderers, rapists. But the highlight of the ICE report were three individuals—a middle aged gang member who had no record of violent arrest, a tax-evading Kazakhstani man, and a second middle-aged man who had re-entered the United States on 10 separate occasions.
By all accounts ICE officials were happy with the outcome of this deportation spree. And why should they not be? After all, they had rid our country of a number of criminals and deviants. Men and women who contributed nothing of substance to the community or economy.
But not all who were deported had the same track record as the three headline criminals. Two of the deportees belonged to the church I have attended all my life, and I have known both men for over a decade.
My mother broke the news to me during one of our weekly calls. Two weeks later she informed me that another one of our church members had also been deported. The members of the community that ICE is targeting and deporting do not match the threatening descriptions that they publicize. In both of these instances, ICE has torn families apart and taken away the breadwinner. One could argue that by removing kids’ fathers from their lives, ICE has inadvertently set the stage for future public safety threats as some studies have shown that criminality can be linked to the absence of fathers in children’s lives.
The whereabouts of one of our church members is known. He is staying at a family member’s home in Tijuana. That’s more than can be said for the other church member, who has not been able to communicate with his family. This situation is understandably stressful for both the immediate family and our entire church congregation. As a community we have banded together and aided each family during their time of need, but there’s only so much we, as a church, can do.
Our church members are not the only decent people who have been targeted for deportation. Numerous accounts in other states have surfaced in the last several months since the deportations increased. Among the more heinous instances are accounts of officers ripping parents from their kids en route to school.
In addition, since 2012 over 1,400 American citizens have been unlawfully detained by ICE—some for weeks at a time. These examples, again, illustrate the inconsistency of “selectively targeted” operations, and in part demonstrate stereotyping American citizens of Hispanic descent as undocumented immigrants.
While some dangerous criminals have been deported, these operations have created pockets of disrupted families in the Latino community. Hopefully the children separated from their parents by ICE won’t turn into the latent criminals their undeserving parents were portrayed as.
Japhet Matias Perez Estrada is an undergraduate studying sociology at Columbia University in New York. He is a San Diego native, first generation American citizen and the first in his family to attend college.
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