Bringing Shalom to the City….

stories from CityTeam International in Oakland, CA

A Day in their Shoes…or perhaps more

Written by Samuel Garcia

Just this week, there was a shooting 2 blocks away from where I live.  On our way to Quickly’s, me and my roommate heard a cacophony of sirens blasting through the streets. Some of the guys at CityTeam said they definitely heard the gunshots not too long before. Today’s newspaper revealed that four people were shot in the commotion.  All the victims are now recovering.

Man, o man, this week has been intense for us, learning about immigration and the criminal justice system.  For our program day on immigration two undocumented students came to share their stories of navigating the immigration system without papers—unable to get driver’s licenses, jobs, and even financial aid when they went off to college.  What I found interesting was that one student was from San Francisco, and about my little brother’s age; the other one, Miriam, was my age.  They both found out that they were undocumented in their senior year of high school when it was time to apply to college and fill out a FAFSA form.  That is intense! Miriam shared with us that in the time span between her senior in high school (2006) and now, most of her family, including her parents, have been deported back to Mexico due to the new immigration laws being passed.  She now suffers from separation anxiety, but still works to help fight for immigrants rights here in California.  She helps advocate for the Dream Act, as well as other ways in which undocumented youth can have a path to education and citizenship in America.

InterVarsity, and especially InterVarsity’s BayUP, is notorious for simulations that help get students thinking about issues by putting themselves in somewhat the same shoes the targeted groups are in.  So, we did a simulation where we all received unknown identities (citizen, immigrant w/papers, or immigrant w/o papers), that no one else could see but us.  We also had proxe “ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)” police who pulled individuals aside at-random for questioning and if you had no papers, were put into a detention center.  To a lot of people it was a simple game, but as I remembered the stories of my family and their run-ins with immigration, and even my experiences of being racially profiled, the whole simulation began to feel intense real fast.  An immigration checkpoint was added, and the ICE officers were asked to find someone that looks like they were “illegal”.  I started to get frantic because I’m the only Latino male of the BayUp group.  I tried to stay on the perimeter of the boundaries and out of sight of the ICE officers so that I couldn’t get caught.  Though I eventually did get checked by the police, in the game I was a citizen, and I was let free.

So there was a lot that went through my mind doing that simulation.  Even though I was a citizen in the simulation, and a citizen in real-life, I was surprised by how anxious were my thoughts that ran through my mind.  I’ve learned along the way that the color of your skin can really get you targeted.  I do have papers to prove my citizenship, but I still feel like that doesn’t stop people from assuming that I’m not.  I’ve been asked if I can speak English, followed around stores, and even demanded to get someone food because they thought I was just another restaurant worker.  I don’t have to live in the same fear of being deported as undocumented individuals, but this whole simulation makes me wonder what my undocumented family has had to go through, knowing they are being watched and at any time can be asked for their proof of citizenship if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.  What surprised me later that day, too, was also learning that ICE puts immigration checkpoints primarily in low-income Latino groups.  Yet Canadians are just as likely to cross the border illegally, too.  That’s not racist at all!  By the end of the simulation I realized that even as a Hispanic citizen with some privilege, the reality is that I am still subjected to racial profiling by my American people, and that is a travesty that I will have to face for the rest of my life.

Even in the midst of all this, I was inspired to hear what the Bible had to say about immigration.  As a small group we went over the story of Esther, the orphan girl turned into a queen.  The truth was, she was an undocumented citizen herself trying to conceal her identity in a new land! Even though she had a choice to not associate herself with the plight of her people, she chose to reveal her Jewish identity, even if it meant being killed herself.  It makes me think about the courage undocumented individuals need to have just to be in this country, and to stand up for their rights if their people are to be treated fairly in terms of legislature.  They can either hide or reveal their identity, even if it means the risk of deportation.

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