By Sandra De Anda
Thanksgiving, for Latinx folks, is traditionally about sitting at the table with loved ones ready to feast on turkey or tamales. The first holiday observance under the Trump administration brought suggestions of holding off on political talk during turkey time. But discomfort isn’t the worst thing that can happen during the holidays; families torn apart by deportations is more terrifying. That’s exactly what happened to Alvaro Benitez, a Huntington Beach father of four citizen children, when he got deported the day before Thanksgiving.
Benitez walked into a federal building in SanTana for an appointment with ICE on Wednesday morning, but never came out. By nighttime, immigration authorities already deported him to Tijuana, Mexico. Activists always knew this day could come, but organized to prevent it. Benitez was first picked up by ICE to be deported in 2014, despite having no criminal record. Immigrant rights group RAIZ took up his cause. Along with support from local congress members, activists helped dramatically stave off his deportation right before immigration was able to drop him off on the other side of the border.
The fight continued. Benitez walked into that same SanTana federal building in late September, but came out to hug his children. ICE decided to delay making good on his deportation until last week. We now have two options: get used to these deportations or take action to shut down ICE’s terrible tactics. This movement, led by undocumented folks, can’t have allies and community members become complacent while families are torn apart. The deportations that plague our community wont go down without a fight.
Though legal representation is important, more and more undocumented immigrants are losing cases. It’s no longer about deporting the “bad hombres.” It’s now about deporting all undocumented people and making examples of immigrants with “clean records,” like Benitez, to spread fear. Many times, it’s people who, during the Obama administration, weren’t considered a priority for deportation that are now being targeted. That’s not to say that the deportation machine created by President Barack Obama wasn’t destructive; it deported more immigrants than under any other previous presidency.
But what we want to see now at future ICE hearings is the mobilization of our own community members. It sets the precedent that people will come out and that there’s substance behind political conversations over Thanksgiving meals. At that point, support becomes more tangible than symbolic. Orange County Immigrant Youth United has a vision of empowerment, not hopelessness. To realize it, we need more supporters, media presence, and less stereotyping of immigrants.
It’s already too late for Benitez, but not for his family, who the activist community is raising funds for in response to his deportation. What undocumented immigrant will be taken away from their family next?