Los Angeles (AFP) – From housekeepers and construction workers to waiters and activists, members of LA’s huge Latino immigrant community say they are horrified by the zero tolerance policy that has led to children being separated from their parents at the US border.
“I would rather die than be separated from my child,” said housekeeper Luisa, 35, who slipped into the United States from Guatemala 18 years ago.
“The day someone tries to take my children away from me is the day they will have to kill me,” added the mother-of-three, who did not want her real name used.
Her comments were echoed by nearly a dozen other people interviewed by AFP in Los Angeles’s Westlake neighborhood, which has a heavy Latino population.
Many of those interviewed said they feel sickened by the images and stories of children being separated from their parents at the border.
Andrea, also from Guatemala, said she left her native country 13 years ago, fleeing poverty and unrest — and now feels like a hounded animal.
“We ran away from the fire and now they want to throw us back into the flames,” the 32-year-old said, referring to President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration.
“I don’t want to go back to Guatemala,” added Andrea, who has three kids and is pregnant with her fourth. “I come from a village located near the volcano that recently erupted.”
“That’s the last place I want to go back to.”
– Living in fear –
Tommy Trinidad, who works at a law firm that represents immigrants, said the administration’s harsh policies have sown panic in immigrant communities now hunkering down.
“They are afraid to even speak with us,” Trinidad said. “They are living in fear.”
He said his law firm has faced mounting resistance from authorities as it deals with an influx of inquiries from members of the Latino community seeking information about loved ones detained at the US-Mexico border.
“In the last three to six month, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has been lying to us all the time,” Trinidad said. “They don’t respect the rights of detainees, they claim we haven’t filed the proper forms, they hold deportation hearings at 5:00 am when we cannot be there.”
“We are now afraid of taking on new cases because we know there is no respect for the law.”
For some like Jose, who hails from Mexico and has worked in construction for 20 years, the unfolding family separation crisis has reinforced his decision to voluntarily return home.
“None of us are ready or want to go back but we have no other choice,” he said.
Asked if he would consider coming back to the United States down the line, he shook his head.
“That’s it for us,” he said with a sigh. “We will stay in Mexico, whatever awaits us there.”
“My wife and I are from Mexico City, we have family there and this is no longer home,” he said. “This will not change until Trump leaves.”