As counties across the nation are fighting for sanctuary policies to be put in place and give immigrants a sense of protection, more people are worrying about getting home everyday and coming across an ICE agent. I’m still thinking of little Magdalena Gomez Gregorio, the 11-year-old girl we witnessed last month facing a terrifying reality when her dad was one of the nearly 700 people arrested during the ICE workplace raids in Mississippi. Magdalena's fear asks, "Is he ever coming home?"
Magdalena, I understand and feel your pain. I was once in your shoes. My dad was arrested by ICE when I was only 10 years old. Every time I remember that day the same emotions come back - the fear and helplessness of not being able to do anything.
The recent increase in immigration raids and families being separated constantly reminds me that there are hundreds of other children going through this and when I saw Magdalena on the internet crying and going through the very same emotions I went through, it took me back to being that 10-year-old girl asking the same questions that Magdalena is asking now. Why him? He’s my dad. He didn’t do anything wrong, he was just trying to work.
Magdalena’s father was picked up by ICE while he was working to keep food on the table. Being a young girl you don’t fully understand what is going on. All you know is your dad isn’t coming home; you wonder, is he going back to Mexico. All you think is, ‘I need my dad.’ It is an unexplainable fear to wonder: is he ok? where is he? because you know he should be by your side.
The day my dad called and said he had been picked up by ICE, my family and I were waiting for him to get home to sing happy birthday to my sister. At that moment my whole world fell apart. I cried for hours feeling stripped of my power. I felt a pain in my chest fueled by anxiety and uncertainty. My body would shake with anger and frustration. My mom was the warrior who kept our family together, she kept her composure through her own pain and struggle. My sisters broke down but were determined to do something and mobilized to help in whatever way they could.
A couple of days later, I went to see my dad in the ICE Detention center. I am the youngest of seven, and the only US Citizen in my family. I was one of the only people that could go visit him. Since my mom or siblings couldn’t go to the detention center, an elderly neighbor, along with one of my sisters who decided that she would put herself at risk, took me to visit my dad.
The drive up to the Santa Rita Prison, where he was being held, seemed like such a long ride, as if it took hours when it is only about 40 minutes away. My mom and sisters told me not to cry, that I had to be strong. I remember the officer asking for my birth certificate and my school ID. He asked me what my relationship to Miguel Chavez was and I was scared because that wasn’t my dad’s real name, it was my uncle's. I had to say he was my uncle because my birth certificate had my dad’s real name.
I walked through the metal detectors and waited in a long hallway packed with people waiting to see their loved ones. My sister went in first, then I walked in right after. I saw my dad in the orange jumpsuit, behind the glass. The moment I saw him we both broke down. I had never seen my dad cry until that day. He had never been as vulnerable as he was that day. We were talking on the phone behind glass. Without being able to hug or touch him, he reassured me we were going to get through this, and that we were going to be alright. I said ok, but I didn’t believe him. He was sitting behind glass telling me everything was going to be ok while he was imprisoned, even though he did not commit a crime. How was I supposed to believe him?
I said ok, more to reassure him. As I left, sadness cannot describe what I felt, I was leaving him behind and I felt guilt that I got to go home and he had to stay there.
No one understands our pain if they don’t go through it themselves. It is an everlasting pain that resonates every time you hear someone else experience it. This is why something has to be done not just locally but nationally. We need to get policies in place to protect our immigrant community, but people should come together, we need for everyone to come together and protect each other.
Rather than federally funding the separation of families that money should go toward programs that serve families. There should be no ICE. All the agency does is marginalize our people who already suffered through too much, people who risk their lives coming to this country for a better future, and when encountered with this agency are treated like criminals. Both Magdalena’s dad and mine were arrested while trying to financially support their family.
Just because some of us don’t have status doesn’t mean we are illegal; no human being is illegal. A possible deportation not only affects the person put in deportation proceedings but their entire ecosystem, every single person around them. Younger Alicia needed someone to understand what she was going through, someone who had experienced what she was going through and could guide her. Ten-year-old Alicia needed someone to check in on her mental health. She also needed her dad and I know Magdalena does, too. I am right here in your pain Magdalena, you might not know me but you know my pain and I know yours.
My dad has always been a very reserved person when it comes to his personal journey, he has thankfully been by our side and we have a strong bond. I know we can count on each other for anything. I love to spend time with him, joking and laughing. No child should be denied the opportunity to grow up with a parent. I am unsure of the current status of Magdalena’s father but she should be able to look forward to building a strong bond with him. This journey is an uphill battle, it has been over 10 years and we are still fighting for my father to have his status adjusted. I hope and pray your dad comes home soon.
Magdalena, I live in California but I am here for you.
For information on what to do in the First 24 hours of a loved one being detained in Northern California: TheFirst24.org/Immigration