Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
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By Heidi M. Pascual
The immigrant communities are in fear of a group of federal agents called ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). ICE agents have the
power to grab you, separate you from your family, detain you for indefinite periods, and deport you anytime. Created under Homeland Security
after the 9-11 attacks, ICE is tasked to enforce immigration laws and “investigate criminal and terrorist activity of foreign nationals residing in the
United States.” Basically, ICE agents look for foreigners and foreign-looking people in the United States who are presumably undocumented or
criminals or terrorists. Racial profiling has become a common means to identify them. Hence, regardless of where you are — in a traffic stop, at
work, in school, or at home — ICE agents can arrest you and you cannot do anything about it.
Under the Trump Administration, ICE seems to have become more powerful and answerable to no one but Trump, who of course has repeatedly
shown disgust for people who do not look like him or share his views. Even local governments are helpless because they are not usually
informed of ICE’s operations beforehand.
I read the HUES story on the ICE raid in Madison, written by my good friend, Jon Gramling, and I truly felt sorry for many of our Latino community
members. I learned that 20 people were picked up and detained by ICE during those raids, and most were breadwinners with no criminal
records. As a result of the ICE raids, many establishments such as restaurants were closed, because their workers, including their chefs, were
afraid that ICE would get them! In schools, many Latino kids were absent from their classes because their parents were scared they would be
snatched away from them by ICE!
I am sure that similar raids are happening all over the country, as the Trump Administration is focused on getting rid of “illegal immigrants” and
“foreign terrorists.” Such labelling has caused this unprecedented fear among our immigrants, mostly people of color from Hispanic, Asian, and
African countries. I now understand many of my African friends why they keep a low profile so as not to highlight their being Muslims in this kind of
an environment. I have heard stories of Muslims being maltreated in many places, simply because of their religion…and of course, their outward
appearance and clothing. They have been marked so badly because of the fact that the 9-11 terrorists were Muslims, though extremists. In a
similar vein, not all Asians are like the shooter at Virginia Tech. Simply stated, there are good and bad eggs in every racial groupings, including
our Caucasian community.
Let me go back to what I am trying to say here. ICE is a powerful law-enforcement agency on immigration. However, its operations have been
shrouded in secrecy that not even local police know when and where raids would happen. ICE seems to increasingly take the shape of a dictator’
s secret police. The acronym ICE invokes the coldness of its people, who don’t care about immigrant families, the effects of separating little
children from their parents, the loss of breadwinners and their deportation to countries they left behind long ago, and the economic loss to this
country once these productive immigrants are detained for long periods or deported for good. More than all these is the feeling of fear, of being
scared to death … that in any given day, you will just vanish, and you will leave your family behind, with no one to love them and take care of them
as best as you do.
I am inclined to ask: do these ICE agents have hearts as cold as ice?
A Note on US Embassy Immigration Officers
There is a common question asked by immigration officers to all
applicants for temporary or tourist visas for the United States:
“Why should I believe that you are going back to your country after
your visit to the U.S.?” In general, these immigration officers were
trained to assume that applicants for visas desire to stay in the U.
S. for good. There is data supporting this assumption, that is why.
In the Philippines, there is an acronym for Filipinos who overstay
in the United States and refuse to go back home after the
expiration of their temporary visas: TNT (Tago ng Tago) or “Hiding
All the Time.” The TNTs are the Filipino versions of our Latino
undocumented aliens. These TNTs come for economic reasons,
and poverty usually drives them to remain incognito for the rest of
their stay in the U.S. Most of them work in the health care industry,
in hotels, or in private homes, and are paid cash for their
services. TNTs cannot demand high wages and not even the
minimum wage, for they are like ghosts, whose names cannot be
found in any official list of employees. They endure insults and
discrimination because they have to earn for their families back
home, for their children’s education, for their parents’ medical
needs, or for any unforeseen necessity at home. They cannot get
sick because they have no health insurance coverage. They have
to live in dorm-like rooms and tighten their belts in order to save
and have enough money to send home.
There have been happy endings though: Some end up getting
married to American citizens and eventually become American
citizens themselves (this was prior to 9-11, when immigration
rules were not as tough and harsh). Some earn their citizenship
via amnesty. A few get incarcerated for civil or criminal offenses,
while some get deported when ICE raids were conducted in
surprise. Still, despite the high risk of getting caught and being
jailed or deported, TNTs choose to keep hiding and working hard
for their families back home.
Whether or not you agree with me, I salute them, just like the so-
called “undocumenteds” who help keep this country’s economy