The five-year-old sat on her mother’s lap, not looking at the cartoon show flickering on the silent television. Nor was she looking at any of the five grownups in the room. She clutched a well-worn blanket and stared unhappily into space.
“She sleeps a lot during the day, but doesn’t sleep at night,” said her mother. “She misses her father. I think she is depressed.”
Lupita and her husband Leonardo have been here 15 years — since their oldest daughter Daylay was an infant. Leonardo has always worked for the same employer. Two weeks ago, he was taken from the community — first to Portland and then to Tacoma where he is being held at the Northwest Detention Center.
“I did not see them take my husband,” said Lupita. “But our neighbor saw. The police stopped Leonardo when he was on his way to work. It was 4:30 in the morning — just out in front here — and then they called ICE. Our next-door neighbor was standing in front of his own house watching and they told him it was none of his business and to get back inside.”
“Was it the Long Beach police? Or was it a county sheriff? Or the state cops?”
No lo sé; No lo vi.
“I don’t know. I didn’t see,” she said again. Her eyes suddenly filled with tears but, just as quickly, the tears were gone. Replaced by … what? Fear? Anger? Both?
“He knew this was coming. He had been stocking up with food. We have enough to eat for a while but we don’t have money for the rent.” Due tomorrow. And this time fear was palpable.
“Have you always been afraid here?”
“No. Everything was fine until two years ago. No one ever bothered us. For 13 years we had a peaceful life. And then they took Sylvestre. He was a friend and he was the first. It has gotten worse and worse. Lately, when Leonardo went out to the store, people said things. They told him they are building a wall and they asked him to pay for it. It has happened at least three times in three different stores. No one ever came to his defense. I am afraid to go out. I am afraid they will shoot me. I think they have guns.” Monica nestles closer. Sixteen-year-old Daylay stares at her mother. Silently.
“What about at school? Are you afraid?” we ask Daylay.
“No. Not yet. But the racists are getting bolder. They make remarks but try to disguise them as jokes. One of the last days of school, the science teacher had us push our desks together so that they were in squares of four. My desk was next to a Latino friend and there were two Caucasians in the desks facing ours. They took their backpacks and made a barrier down the middle, across the desks. They called it The Wall. When the teacher told them to stop, they said they were just fooling around…” She looks down at her hands, clasped in her lap. “They’re just jerks,” she says softly.
The family’s hope is that Leonardo will be bonded out of the Detention Center. “It will probably be a $20,000 to $25,000 bond,” says Daylay. “His employer says he can help pay part of it. But…” her voice becomes softer. “… he has two DUIs. One from 2002 and one from 2008.”
Lupita corrects her gently “but in 2008 it was not a DUI. His ticket said Negligent Driving.”
“But the lawyer said he’ll fight it as a DUI.” Says Daylay. Not arguing; just holding onto the facts as she knows them.
Lupita plans to use her own paycheck to get to Tacoma for Leonardo’s hearing. We all are quiet for a time. So much will depend upon the judge. There are three judges but you don’t get to choose. Each of the three — two women, one man — looks at things differently. Which one will hear Leonardo’s case? Will s/he care about his family? Why does the attorney want to defend the Negligent Driving citation as if it were a DUI? More silence in the room. More staring into space.
The front door opens and another young woman enters — a niece. She sits with us, her concern unmistakable as she joins our silence — each of us busy with our own thoughts. It feels almost like a vigil. Eventually, we talk some more. Lupita says she knows she must do some paperwork and get it to her aunt who is a permanent resident. To protect the children if they come for her, too. “A Power of Attorney?” we ask. She nods in agreement.
“It already feels like the world has ended,” she says. “He was the head of our household. He paid all the big bills — the rent and the groceries. I pay what I can the cable bill and other small things. And now, I need to pay for the trip to Tacoma…”
As it turned out, Lupita’s world did not end. Not yet. Leonardo is home, out on a $20,000 bond, paid in full. But it is not over. Now, more attorneys, more expense, more years in limbo as he moves through the immigration process toward a pathway to lawful status.
For Lupita and her family, disaster is averted for a little while. Still… fear lingers in her eyes. It’s not a community that is comfortable for her any more. “It’s not like it was before. Before the election campaign for this presidente…”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Increasing immigration enforcement since the inauguration of President Donald Trump is an important story in Pacific County and elsewhere in the nation. But it’s a difficult story to tell, because the people most affected — undocumented immigrants — are often afraid to speak to authorities, including the news media. Chinook Observer columnist and retired teacher Sydney Stevens is writing this series, “Stories from the heart,” in an unconventional way that will mostly avoid specifically identifying the people she is reporting about. Their quotes are real, their stories are real. We hope it will help illuminate this issue that is having profound impacts on Pacific County’s families, culture and economy.
An employer speaks
Five. They’ve taken five of my guys. They took my foreman. He’d been working for me for 18 years. He came over the border three different times without documentation but he had no crimes on his record. Even so … he took his chances and so did I.
At first, I was mad but I’ve come to the place where I am looking at the bigger picture. They are the best workers I’ve ever had. Some of these guys out in the beds are prime athletes! I can’t replace them. I would hire them back in a minute. They are the best.
We’re all wrong, though. All of us. They came here illegally and they knew it. I knew it, too, but I hired them. We were working on borrowed time. And, when you come right down to it, even though these guys have been here and working hard for 15 or 18 years, that doesn’t give them any more rights than Mexicans who might be waiting to come in legally.
I got one guy back. He had worked for me for 15 years and they let him out on a $20,000 bond. He’d been saving his money so he could pay it when the time came. Now he’s going to be getting a working number and that’s the best possible outcome. Now he has a path to becoming legal.
Something’s got to happen for the good of the agricultural community. I don’t mean just here. I mean all over our country. We depend on our Mexican labor force. It they are all sent back, our agricultural community will collapse. You’ll see the prices in the grocery stores go up. It will be a disaster…
“It already feels like the world has ended.”