Just before 7:30 one Friday morning last March, Alejandro said goodbye to his wife Maria and his two small daughters and headed off to work. He didn’t make it far. Four blocks from his home near Bakersfield, Calif., two unmarked vehicles, a white Honda and a green Mazda pickup truck, pulled up behind him at a stop sign. Plain-clothes Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents spilled out. They wore vests emblazoned with the word POLICE.
Alejandro dialed Maria from his cell phone and told her what was happening. Her heart dropped. She said later that she knew it wouldn’t matter that Alejandro had no criminal record, not even a speeding ticket. Or that he’d driven these same roads every day for the past decade, picking grapes, pistachios and oranges in California’s Central Valley. Since 2006, when Alejandro overstayed his visa, he had been considered a “fugitive alien,” in ICE parlance, and therefore subject to immediate deportation to Mexico. Now he was arrested on the spot.
A few days later, he was given an ankle bracelet and allowed to return home to say goodbye. He was gone by the end of spring—before his eldest, Isabella, began talking, before Estefania took her first steps, before Maria gave birth this winter to their third baby girl.
The family’s experience—including the fear of being targeted if their names were not changed in this story—has become increasingly common during the Trump Administration. While President Obama told ICE to focus on violent offenders and recent border crossers, among others, President Trump has cast a much wider net. In early 2017, his Administration issued a series of edicts to ICE agents, prosecutors and immigration judges: any and all of the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally are now a priority for deportation. “There’s no population that’s off the table,” Thomas Homan, the acting director of ICE, told reporters in December. “If you’re in the country illegally, we’re looking for you.”