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Being an Immigrant in Trump’s America

Being an immigrant in the United States has never been easy. Since Trump’s election, however, there has been a spike in paranoia amongst immigrants, and violence against them.

“You are on survival mode a lot of the time,” said Laura Mendez, a Colombian immigrant and DACA recipient who attends the University of Cincinnati.

This is the reality for many immigrants who come to the U.S. in search of a better future, especially for those who do not have the proper documentation. Everyday tasks can put their lives at risk and could potentially get them deported if they are undocumented. “Right now, many, many families are afraid to take their kids to school, they are afraid to drive, it’s pretty grim,” said Ligia Gómez, the director of the Spanish for Social Work and Health Care Services certificate at the University of Cincinnati, and the chair of Apoyo Latino, a nonprofit organization that strives to provide information about resources to the Hispanic population in the Great Cincinnati area.

Trump’s administration is quickly building up a deportation force, and he has called for Customs and Border Protection to hire 5,000 border patrol agents, and 10,000 ICE officers.

“I have noticed a lot of change, mostly fear in the community. Many immigrant families have tried to cancel the public benefits they receive for their U.S. citizen children such as Medicaid, Food Stamps or Cash Assistance because they fear this could cause their deportation,” said Mayra Casas Ugarte, who works in immigration and public benefits for Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, a law firm dedicated to providing free legal services to low income families.

Immigrant communities such as Hispanics and Muslims, as well as additional groups that are “othered,” like African-Americans, Asians, Jewish people, the LGBTQ community, etc., have been victims of an outbreak of hate crimes since election day, 261 as of February 9th. “Without even knowing I was undocumented, I was already being treated as such; I already felt that otherness,” Mendez said, recalling the time she found out she was undocumented.

This time period produced a noticeable spike in hate crimes. The New York police reported that the number of hate crimes have increased 31.5% since the same time in 2015, according to CNN.

Take for example the swastika graffiti and racial slurs, anti-Semitismbomb threats to Jewish community centers (146 in total since January 1, as of March 23), or the racially motivated shooting of two Indian men, to name a few. The list goes on. For the second year in a row, hate groups in the US have seen astronomical growth, feeling like they finally have a voice and a platform.

This is especially visible with Steve Bannon, the White House Chief Strategist and former executive chair of Breitbart News, who has openly embraced the Alt-Right, which is made up of white nationalists and anti-Semitics. White supremacists in the White House show the world that it is acceptable to show hatred toward those that are different from the status quo. “The atmosphere not only in Washington, but in the United States right now is one of xenophobia and not understanding the immigrant experience,” Gómez said.

Cincinnati is now declared a sanctuary city, which means they will limit their cooperation with the federal government in order to help those who are undocumented to avoid deportation. In Hamilton County, there have been no reported deportations. In Butler County, it’s an entirely different story.

Maribel Trujillo-Diaz, a Fairfield mother of four American-born children, has been deported to her home country of Mexico. She fled the country 15 years ago after drug cartels were targeting her family.

Advocacy groups, religious organizations, and the entire community came together from Cincinnati. Vigils were held, letters were written, people from all over the country pleaded to halt her deportation, but to no avail. A federal court denied her request to stay in the U.S., but her attorneys and the community around her are not giving up.

This is just one example of close to 8 million people who face deportation in the U.S. “Far from targeting only “bad hombres,” as Trump has said, his new order allows immigration agents to detain nearly anyone they come in contact with who has crossed the border illegally. People could be booked into custody for using food stamps or if their child receives free school lunches,” according to the LA Times.

“This is something that needs to be dealt with delicately because I think the smallest things can affect this community. Whether things are actually happening or not, there is real fear out there. And that’s translating into how people are acting and things that they’re doing,” said Mendez.

This is not the first time there has been a fear of immigrants in the U.S. This is something that has come in waves, starting in the late 1790s, in reaction to a wave of immigrants coming from France and Ireland. In the mid-1800s the Know-Nothings rallied against the Catholics, campaigning to bar them from the office and take away their right to vote. In the late 1800s, it was the Chinese who had come to work in the gold mines. In 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an executive order that resulted in the effective imprisonment of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans in fear of our national security. Fast forward to today, where many Americans fear Muslim and Hispanic immigrants, and believe they are taking our jobs and threatening our safety.

People around the country are coming together to stand up for what’s right, and educate the uninformed. “Everybody is working really hard to help these immigrants and these working families to prepare for deportation. How that’s going to affect not only their lives but everybody’s lives and the economy of the United States we don’t know that yet, but it looks pretty grim,” Gómez said.

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