Immigration crackdown raises students’ fears, anxiety of deportation

Gaby Paez

By Gaby Paez

The November presidential election brought a wave of mixed feelings across the nation; some were left excited, some unsure and others were left in utter dismay. However, the dominant feeling across immigrant communities and households post election was fear.

“[The election] was really saddening,” Grady junior and Mexican American, Jazmin Cruz said. “It was evident that the situation for immigrants was not going to get better. It was very quiet in my house that day.”

President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Mar. 6 which “suspended the entry of certain aliens from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.” In addition to this order, President Trump has made it clear that he hopes to execute strict enforcement of immigration laws, along with the construction of a wall on the Mexico U.S. border.

“I actually had a student share on a quiz that the student’s performance on the quiz may have been affected because they were saddened by this restriction, which directly affected his family,” said Kathy Maryska, a first generation Czech American and a member of Grady’s English as a Second Language (ESOL) instructional staff. “Having worked with many Muslim students and spent time with their families outside of school, I’m deeply saddened by our government’s decision to jeopardize one community for the blunders of extremist groups. They are not one in the same.”

The enforcement of these strict policies has struck a fear in undocumented immigrants and their children, even those within the Grady community.

“My parents were upset and my sister cried, but there was nothing we could do about it, so we just took the news like everyone else did,” junior Michelle Vasquez said.

With the fear of deportation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) knocking on doors, many families have taken precautions, particularly when driving.

“My father has to drive, and he doesn’t have a driver’s license, so we are concerned that one day my dad could get stopped and be deported back to Mexico,” Vasquez said. “He’s the main person who provides for our family, and for a period of time, I had to drive my mother everywhere, but my dad still took the risk of driving.’’

Recent raids by immigration officials only heightened the family’s concern. “There was also a week when the ICE was going to doors and knocking,’’ Vasquez said. “They ended up deporting people from their houses, so when we would hear knocking on our door, we were scared it would be ICE.”

The ESOL department at Grady is doing their best to make sure students are well aware of their rights.

“Our ESOL office is working closely with the Mayor’s office to ensure our families know their rights,” Maryska said. “We have heard stories of children sleeping in closets or house hopping because they fear ICE agents will come in the middle of the night and deport them. I have several students who plan to travel during the summer. They asked me if that was okay. I just tell everyone make sure you contact your embassy and know your rights.”

Not only are families struggling to stay safe, but they are also having to discuss potential possibilities of deportation with their older children.

“My parents talked to me about the possibility of their deportation and what precautions to take,” Cruz said. “If my parents were to be deported, I would have to make a tough decision. If I chose to stay here, then I would have to balance school and a job in order to live by. If I decide to go with my family back to Mexico, then I would give up an education in the United States, and I would also have to choose what to do with my sister; do I keep her here and raise her, or do I send her to Mexico where she would not be educated to her potential?”

Cruz, who is currently enrolled at Grady and excelling in five Advanced Placement (AP) courses and has maintained straight A’s since middle school, is an example of the students who are fighting for their futures. Students like her will be the first generation of their families to attend college and graduate with hopes of establishing careers. However, with the possible responsibility of raising siblings or being denied the opportunity to better their education in the U.S, those students must overcome adversity.

These families immigrated to America searching for a better life and educational opportunities for their children. With the new enforcement of the Trump administration’s policies, these families are being torn apart, forcing these children to choose between their families and the hard sacrifices their parents made to get them to where they are today.

“Several of our students have experienced separation, and it affects them daily,” Maryska said. “They have to work more, continue their studies, and step in as role models for their families. They are forced to grow up very fast. Yet, they are some of the most resilient students who will be so much stronger despite the arrogance of this legal decision.”