Donald Trump scares children. I’m not exaggerating. Last week, I heard kids saying they’re frightened that the new president will deport their parents from the United States.
Being forcefully separated from your mother or father would scare anyone. We all have childhood horror stories about getting temporarily lost in a supermarket or public space and imagining our parents to be gone forever—until they found us again. Unfortunately, those fears are becoming more of a reality for children of immigrants, thanks to Trump.
Here are two examples.
“No one should ever go through the pain of having their mom taken away from them,” Guadalupe García de Rayos’ 14-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, said at a recent news conference in Phoenix. “No one should be packing their mother’s suitcase.”
Immigration authorities arrested and deported Jacqueline’s mother earlier this month. Jacqueline was born in the United States, but her mother had lived here for more than 20 years without papers. In 2008, García de Rayos was caught using a fake Social Security number in a raid at the water park where she worked—one of the reasons she was deported.
During the Obama administration—when more than 2.5 million undocumented immigrants were deported—García de Rayos wasn’t a priority target. That changed when Trump took office.
Jersey Vargas is afraid that what happened to Jacqueline will happen to her. Jersey, also 14, was born in the United States. But her father, Mario Vargas, has no papers and once was arrested for drunken driving. He’s now at risk of being deported and is fighting his case in court. If he loses, Jacqueline and her five siblings would be left without their father.
When I asked her what she would like to tell the president, she said: “I think his stone heart might soften… I would say to Donald Trump: ‘Sir, please understand we have suffered. We are human, just like you are. I hope you’ll be able to understand us, and to help the families that are scared and afraid.’ ”
I don’t know whether Trump will listen to girls like Jersey and Jacqueline, because we now live in a country where children have to defend their parents, rather than the other way around.
Last week, 680 undocumented immigrants were arrested in raids in 12 states. Homeland Security Secretary John Henry says that about 75% of them “were criminal aliens.” But the Trump administration slaps the “criminal” tag on anybody.
“We will have strong borders again,” Trump told cheering supporters on February 18 at a rally in Florida. “General Kelly, now Secretary Kelly, he’s really doing the job. You’re seeing it. The gang members—bad, bad people. I said it Day 1. And they’re going out, or they’re being put in prison. But for the most part, get them the hell out of here. Bring them back to where they came from.”
These raids and harsh words have scared the Latino community. In 2012, there were 4.5 million children who were born in the United States living with at least one undocumented parent, according to the Pew Research Center. Imagine how those kids slept last night.
Trump is the family-destroyer-in-chief of the United States. He has declared that the press is the enemy of the American people, but it’s not the journalists reporting on his raids who are tearing apart these families—it’s his government.
A reader, whom I’d rather not identify, sent me this email message recently: “I have two sons in this beautiful country. We’ve been living here for 11 years, and we’ve never been afraid. But now we are. … I’d like to stay in this country because we want our children to study and get ahead. My son wants to be a scientist. … We’re teaching them to respect the authorities, even if some of them are bad.”
I don’t know whether testimonies like that will soften Trump’s “stone heart,” as Jersey described it. Every time we thought Trump was easing up on his anti-immigrant rhetoric or normalizing his views, we were wrong. And I don’t hold any hope that he’s going to change his promise to deport millions of immigrants.
But what surprises me most is that undocumented parents and their children seem to trust that the United States will do the right thing, eventually, and protect them. In other words, they believe that Trump’s effort to deport millions will fail.
Maybe they’re right. After all, this isn’t the first time in American history that immigrants have been viciously attacked. And, ultimately, the future of the United States belongs to Jersey and Jacqueline, not to Trump. But the first step, as the Dreamers taught us, is this: Overcome fear.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is a news anchor on Univision and the host of “America With Jorge Ramos” on Fusion. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of several best-selling books. His latest is “Take a Stand: Lessons From Rebels.”