13 Unsettling Realities of an Undocumented Immigrant During Trump’s Presidency

Young person staring at the camera with a straight face

Young person staring at the camera with a penetrating gaze.

Originally published on The Body Is Not an Apology and republished here with their permission.

As an undocumented transgender Colombiana, I’m concerned by the level of misunderstanding around the realities that contribute to immigrant migration.

Migration is a symptom of inhumane, imperialistic, and colonialist US foreign policy and the militaristic, unilateral, and hawkish ways the US has interacted with – and continues to interact with  the world.

In order to champion immigrant rights, we must address the root causes of oppression that leads one to leave their home and culture.

What is most surprising is that those same push factors of migration – that is, Islamophobia, the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, money in politics, the carceral state, and climate change  are all elements of foreign policy that affect people in the US and abroad.

Please note each of the push factors mentioned above disproportionately affects immigrants, people of color, and transgender and queer folks.

Yet, little to no attention is given to immigration, detention, and foreign policy by those eligible to participate in the US democratic process.

The current Immigrant Justice Movement in the US is about understanding the root causes of migration while fighting for our right to breathe and walk unapologetically in our truth.

Today, with over 11.2 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, the problem isn’t undocumented people in the US, but the government’s response to undocumented immigrants.

The current immigration discourse revolves around the executive branch’s prosecutorial discretion orders granting legal presence under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability.

These prosecutorial discretion orders are a result of immigrant communities’ organizing and activism, which force the US government to defer from deporting hard-working people and separating families.

However, even these short-term bandages that facilitate our ability to work and provide for ourselves and families are under attack.

With this brief summary of some push factors of migration and the current political dynamics around our immigrant existence, the question of what it means to be undocumented in 2017 remains.

1. To be undocumented is to understand the misplaced resources from the federal government that focus on creating detention centers as opposed to community centers.

2. To be undocumented is to be told that unless you speak fluent English with a US accent, your voice means nothing, and your thoughts and opinions are disregarded.

3. To be undocumented is to live in fear, while yearning to be visible outside of underground economies or capitalist systems that perpetuate labor abuse.

4. To be undocumented is to know that healthcare is a luxury, and one that is barely available to us.

5. To be undocumented is to have people making money out of our stories and speaking for us rather than creating space for us to speak on behalf of ourselves.

6. To be undocumented is to see human rights as abstract concepts and our dignity and humanity as negotiating pieces in US politics.

7. To be undocumented is to drive to a hospital or school while terrified of being stopped, detained, and deported.

8. To be undocumented is to be seen with suspicion and demonized by US media and nativist politicians that run their campaigns on toxic American exceptionalism and racist platforms.

9. To be undocumented in this country is to be one of 11.2 million, which exceeds the population of Hungary, Czech Republic, and Tunisia.

10, To be undocumented is to fear deportation that could lead to a death sentence.

11. To be undocumented is to believe that your basic human needs (that is, healthcare, employment, schooling, and housing) are wrong and justify US citizens labelling you as social parasites.

12. To be undocumented is to be forced into perpetual gratitude towards the US government even though it’s  the same government that forced you to migrate in the first place.

13. To be undocumented is to have your life’s worth reduced to human capital and productivity.

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This is all with the understanding that undocumented is just one of the labels and identities people hold.

Oppressive forces compound as people are: undocumented and queer, undocumented and transgender, undocumented with a uterus, undocumented and disabled, undocumented and HIV+, undocumented and pregnant, undocumented and earning a low income, undocumented and Black, undocumented and Indigenous, and so on.

In other words, to be undocumented is not for the faint of heart and requires exceeding levels of courage and determination.

The power to change the realities of underserved and invisibilized immigrant communities requires people in the US to show up and vote responsibly for candidates that have humane foreign policy agendas and a solid plan to pass comprehensive immigration reform.