She comes in on the train from the Chicago suburbs. I am not even sure what town it is, although she has told me often enough.
Only the slight gray around her temple would betray her age. Lina could still pass herself off as in her early 30s although she is near 50. She is flattered when someone would come onto her, smiling sweetly afterward.
Her 3 kids would be left behind in the care of her sister, who stays with her and helps pay the mortgage. The youngest child has autism, and she constantly worries about who will take care of her as she grows older.
With the increasing crescendo of an immigration crackdown, Lina has stopped traveling due to fear that her status would be discovered. She misses vacations spent in the Caribbean.
You see, Lina, who hails from the Visayas, is undocumented.
Her story is duplicated around an immigrant community that is worried US immigration agents would scoop them up in the middle of the night, slap them into a crowded jail, and then deport them within a matter of hours.
The Trump administration insists it is only deporting criminals, but those caught and booted out of the United States include scores of people with fake identity documents who are not violent.
For this government, there is no distinction. They are seen as criminals.
Even those who are holding bullet proof documents that they are in the US legally wonder about their fate.
Mario and Josefina live in Virginia. Both were naturalized about 5 years ago. He has a thriving consultancy business and she works in a bank.
A year ago, they visited Germany. This year, they are thinking of Greece in the summer like most affluent Americans do, and maybe Christmas back home in Leyte.
They read about the chaos that erupted at airports when even green card holders – permanent residents in the United States one step short of becoming citizens – were held up and detained by authorities.
The Philippines is not among the 7 majority Muslim countries named in the executive order issued by Trump. But there is no reason the country will not be added in the future.
During his campaign, Trump lumped the Philippines among countries harboring terrorists, famously calling them “animals.”
The number of Filipinos – about 300,000 or so – who may be deported comes from a rough approximation. If 10% of the estimated 3.4 million Filipinos in the US are undocumented, the calculation of possible deportations is easy.
The thing is, the number is likely conservative.
Despite the daunting developments swirling around immigrants, Mario is determined to go home and see his 90-year-old parents, along with a gaggle of brothers and sisters who live there and whom he has not seen for more than a decade. He had no plans to go home until he became a US citizen.
“You kind of wonder,” Mario said. “I wonder what would happen if the Abu Sayyaf beheads an American while we are abroad. What happens to us if we travel and come back? Do we need to have the number of a lawyer if they hold us at the airport because we came from a ‘terrorist’ country?”
“But you’re a US citizen,” I told him. “That should give you some level of protection.”
“The problem is how this government looks at immigrants. For them, anybody who is not white is a suspect.”
Every legal immigrant in this country knows of a relative or a friend whose status remains in the shadows.
Asian or otherwise, immigrant communities are in a state of panic because of Trump’s crackdown. Muslim women wearing the hijab are screamed and spat at to go back where they came from.
Lina is bracing herself for the worst.
Her two children were born in the US and she has filed the paperwork to transfer her assets to them. She put a downpayment on a house in Iloilo. She opened a bank account in the Philippines.
“If I have to go back, I will go back. I hope this will blow over, although it seems really bad this time. I have almost no family back home. I just have to survive.”
The increasingly hostile immigration atmosphere under the Trump administration is turning darker ever so quickly, almost by the day.
I try to avoid watching the news these days, especially over the weekend. It is just too upsetting. After all, I am also an immigrant. The whole thing is impossible to ignore.
Relatives and friends whisper furtively, calling or messaging to ask what to do and what the future would hold for those who came to the country just looking for a better life, trying to grab a hold of their “American dream.”
A country that has been built on immigrants is turning inward.
I sometimes wonder if it is worth it to stay in the country. The emotions boil over. Two cups of coffee are not enough to calm me down.
I turn off the TV. – Rappler.com
Rene Pastor is a journalist in the New York metropolitan area who writes about agriculture, politics, and regional security. He was, for many years, a senior commodities journalist for Reuters. He is known for his extensive knowledge of international affairs, agriculture, and the El Niño phenomenon where his views have been quoted in news reports.
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