"Faces of Deportation" - Editorial

20 images Created 2 Jul 2020

The year Donald Trump was carried into office on a frothing anti-immigrant platform, there were an estimated 10.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Roughly two-thirds had been here for more than a decade. Prior administrations had abysmal records, but generally acknowledged that the U.S. was enriched by the immigrants who chose to build their lives here. It’s why Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to some 3 million undocumented immigrants, why George W. Bush supported a path to legal citizenship, why Barack Obama — labeled “deporter-in-chief” after removing nearly 3 million people — also created DACA to protect immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

But from the start, Trump embraced a rabid xenophobia once restricted to the furthest fringe in modern American politics, slashing refugee admissions, rescinding DACA, and ratcheting up arrests of longtime residents. All of that was before the pandemic hit, shutting down immigration courts, turning detention centers into viral tinderboxes, and giving the administration cover to institute some of its most draconian measures yet.

A year ago, Rolling Stone began documenting the stories of immigrants around the country who are fighting removal, waylaid in detention centers or mired in endless court proceedings, with the stability and safety of their families hanging in the balance. (Last names have been withheld out of concern over retaliation.)

“There was a moment in the story when we were in a church in Mississippi for the celebration of a Quinceanera, filled with Guatemalans dressed in their traditional clothing,” says photographer Federica Valabrega, herself an immigrant from Italy. “All I could hear was their Mayan dialect, and I remember having chills. I felt so included and so close to the immigrants reciting prayers in their own dialect to keep their identity intact. I felt ‘we were all immigrants’ in a foreign country trying to make ends meet, while never forgetting where we came from.”
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