Parents across the nation must now deal with the stress and anxiety of having “The Talk” with their children. No, I’m not talking about the birds and the bees. Families with undocumented family members are faced with the tough question: “What is my family going to do if I’m deported?” In some cases, parents have avoided having this conversation to avoid making their kids sad or worried.
But now more than ever, it’s important to have a plan.
For many immigrant families, it’s a conversation nobody wants to think about, but is necessary to have. As fears grow under Trump’s presidency, many undocumented immigrants are scared to travel. Some are even afraid of leaving their own homes or dropping their children off at school. Many are now wondering how their families will survive if one or more members of their family is taken into custody by ICE.
It’s a conversation I had with my family last week. It was one of the most painful conversations I’ve ever had. My father had come across my younger sister’s diary where she had written an entry saying, “I’m scared that my mommy and daddy are going to be taken away from me.”
My heart sank. How could my 10-year-old sister think about these things at such a young age? A million thoughts raced through my mind as I wondered how scared she must feel. How was I supposed to tell her that everything was going to be OK? I realized that even I didn’t have a clue as to what to do if my parents were deported.
My father and mother came across the border to give me and my siblings better opportunities. They have lived here for over two decades, paid taxes, and done their best to achieve our own little American dream. The thought of living life with my parents in a different country makes me sick to my stomach. If my dad were deported, my family would lose everything: Our home, our school, our lives here. Since my mother doesn’t work, my father is the main breadwinner in our house. If he were deported, my older brother would not be able to afford his education.
My father put it bluntly: “If they deport me…I’m not coming back. My dreams, my business, my home, and my family would be torn from me.”
As a mixed-status family, what would happen to younger siblings who are U.S. citizens? What would happen to the money we’ve saved? How would we contact a lawyer and how would we survive?
These are some of the questions my parents and I had to discuss and answer together. Although it killed me to think about living a life without my parents, I knew I would take the responsibility for taking care of my younger siblings. (Many other families choose a guardian outside the family who can be trusted.) After learning about how a father had been detained while dropping of his daughter at school, we talked about how it would be better for me to drop off my younger sister. We also transferred money into an emergency fund that I would be able to access in case either of my parents were detained. I saved our immigration lawyer’s contact information on my phone in the hopes that I would never have to call him.
I also made sure both of my parents knew their rights to remain silent, to ask for an attorney and and to not open the door unless the ICE agents have a warrant that is signed by a judge and includes their first and last name and street address.
I went through different scenarios with my mother to help her practice.
“What if I’m an ICE agent and I tell you I need to come inside the house?” I asked.
“Not without a warrant,” my mother replied.
“What if I say I have a warrant?” I asked.
“Then you can slide it under the door and let me see it first,” she responded.
Although I was proud of my parents for knowing their rights, I was still filled with heartbreak. Why should my own mother fear going grocery shopping? How can anyone even consider separating children from their parents at the border? My parents, who have lived here longer than I have now, feel like strangers in the place they call home.
My little sister wasn’t part of “The Talk” because my parents were afraid of traumatizing her more than she already is. Instead, we had a different talk with her, a more optimistic one where we promised her that everything would be OK.
Since our grandmother is in Mexico, and my parents are afraid of letting us travel alone, my little sister has yet to meet her grandmother. Still, I promised her that no matter what happened, we would always be a family.
I realized that families across the country must be having the same conversation right now.
Even though it’s a scenario we don’t want to imagine, it’s better to have a plan and never use it, than not have a plan at all. We need to have “The Talk,” not because we are afraid, but because we need to be prepared. Prepared to fight, resist, and keep our families together no matter what. It’s time to stand up for our most vulnerable and assure undocumented immigrants they will be protected.
In order to create your own family preparedness plan, you can go here.
This originally ran in South Kern Sol, which is supported by a grant from The California Endowment.