Magazine article Newsweek

Donald Trump's Border War: On the Frontlines in the Battle over Undocumented Immigrants; the Fight over Immigration Is about to Get Ugly, and Texas Is Where the Bodies Will Start Falling

Magazine article Newsweek

Donald Trump's Border War: On the Frontlines in the Battle over Undocumented Immigrants; the Fight over Immigration Is about to Get Ugly, and Texas Is Where the Bodies Will Start Falling

Article excerpt

Byline: Josh Saul

It was a moment of great joy, and then fear. Ammi Arevalo found out she was pregnant in early February, not long after President Donald Trump signed two executive orders ramping up enforcement of immigration law and deportations. Her first reaction was happiness, mixed with some low-level financial anxiety, but almost immediately a dark foreboding took over her thoughts. As an undocumented immigrant, Arevalo already dreads an early morning knock on her door from immigration agents. That's why she's now researching midwives and plans to give birth in her apartment, just like a friend who recently had her baby boy at home for the same reason. "I'm just trying to hide from ICE, because the moment I go to the hospital they are going to ask for my name," Arevalo says, crying softly into her green tea on the patio of a Starbucks in West Houston. "With the new laws that Trump signed, I'm afraid I'm going to get arrested."

Arevalo left El Salvador 14 years ago, fleeing an abusive family member and one of the highest murder rates in the world, and floated across the Rio Grande with a coyote when she was 16. She was picked up by U.S. Border Patrol just after she crossed into America near the small town of Roma, Texas, and released with instructions to report to immigration court. Then she joined her mother and little brother in Houston. She never went to court. Now the 30-year-old runs a small cafe, waking at 4 a.m. each morning to make sandwiches and tostadas alongside her three employees (one has documents, two do not). Arevalo married a U.S. citizen and carefully pays her taxes. She cherishes Lone Star institutions like Whataburger and her local NFL team, the Houston Texans. She smiles brightly when she reveals she has a small crush on their star defensive end J.J. Watt.

But since Trump was elected in November, she lives in constant fear of that knock on her door. She knows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has her name from when she was picked up at the border, and she assumes she has a deportation order because she didn't appear at immigration court over a decade ago. Arevalo's marriage provides no protection--undocumented immigrants don't magically become legal when they marry a U.S. citizen.

And so she lives in the shadows as much as possible. She shops online, uses Uber when she has to deliver food to white neighborhoods and never opens her blinds at home so she can more easily hide if immigration agents come looking for her. The day before we spoke, she was scrolling through Facebook when she saw a news story about the deportation of an undocumented El Salvadoran man who had lived in Houston for 16 years. "He came here when he was 15 or 16," she says. "It's almost my case."

His deportation scared her so much that she nervously ate a large bag of spicy Cheetos that day. "I'm hopeful that this is a bad moment we are going through, and the president will open his eyes and see that we are not criminals," she says, looking down at the Coach purse she bought at an outlet mall. "I would say, 'Mr. Trump, My name is Ammi. I'm not a criminal. I'm just a young woman who's looking for an opportunity.'"

Arevalo and 11 million like her are at the center of a long-running fight that is sparking regular protests and threatening to go nuclear in the early days of the Trump presidency. Leading one side of the war are organizations advocating for undocumented immigrants and even teaching tactics to avoid and subvert immigration laws. They want people like Arevalo to live in the U.S. with no real legal distinction between them and American citizens. Leading the other side are the president, many politicians and sheriffs in Texas, and organizations pushing for tighter enforcement and millions of deportations.

Both forces are powerful and both are using political strategies and street-level tactics to push their agenda. Texas is a major battlefield in the fight, thanks to its southern border, its politics and the ingrown independence and irascibility of the people who live there. …

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