If Trump's Child Detention Centers Had Existed in 2006, I'd Have Been in a Cage

I couldn't have gone on without my mom.

I came to the United States when I was six years old, my mom holding me tightly as we crossed the river. If we hadn’t taken sanctuary in a church, we would have been caught by Border Patrol.

I’m 20 years old now, and I’ve built my life in the United States. I graduated from middle school in Alabama and high school in Texas. Now, I’m working toward earning my college degree, while trying to fight through the depression and anger that comes with being an undocumented student. I have DACA—but I live in the very state that is leading the threat on the program. And while I have a work permit and a driver’s license under the program, my mom has nothing except luck. She lives in a state that legalizes racial profiling with laws like Senate Bill 4, and she is in constant danger.

Watching the news now, I can’t help but think how that could’ve been my mom and me if we had immigrated now, or if zero-tolerance had been in place in 2006. I would have been ripped from her arms. I would have lost her. I would have been six years old and orphaned by the government, all because we were trying to survive.

For the past three years, I’ve been an immigrant rights organizer. I couldn’t sit still while my people were being shackled and stripped of their human rights, just because they don’t have a piece of paper that declared them lucky enough to be citizens—lucky enough to have been born on the “right” side of the border.

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When I was a little girl and my mom was being abused to the brink of death, beaten down until she was black and blue and purple and covered in her own blood, nobody helped us escape the violence. So I grew up and I became the person that I needed. I’ve been organizing for my community because even if I get deported to my death, I know that I fought until the very end.

Right now, children are being separated from their parents because they don’t have a piece of paper. That could’ve been my mom and me. I can’t help but think if that was me — if I was in that situation right now, imprisoned in a tent city, I may not be alive right now. I wouldn’t know how to live without the person that I love the most in the world, ripped away from me because we don’t have a piece of paper.

I would have been six years old and orphaned by the government.

Deportations are nothing new. My father was deported under President Obama’s administration. He was in a detention center for months, until he was finally loaded up in an airplane and deported back to Mexico. He was never a good father to me, but I don’t believe anyone should be incarcerated. My father has to live a life of abuse, of alcoholism and mental illness. This does not excuse his actions—but he was not able to receive help due to his status. Because he is a brown man, his body has been criminalized.

Here's the thing: People care about the children now. I’m glad people care. But I don't think people would care if it were adults. To me, they haven’t cared about adult immigrants for years. They don't care about my dad, who’s been living with addiction and trauma. They don't care about my mom, who has endured a lifetime of abuse and labor exploitation.

They might care a little about me, but I believe that’s only because they can tokenize me as a representation of the “American Dream.” That’s why they call me a Dreamer.

People are outraged because families are being separated and being detained separately. But will anyone even care if and when families are being detained together, indefinitely?

Here's what I know: This country was built on slavery, murder, violence and displacement. This is America.