Immigrants are the “enemy” in Donald Trump’s America. The president has made the arrest, detention and deportation of immigrants the centerpiece of his domestic policies, seeing it as an effective tool to whip up racial resentment among his base and preserve his power. Even though Trump has dramatically ratcheted up the immigration enforcement machine and racist anti-immigrant rhetoric, other U.S. presidents have engaged in the mistreatment and expulsion of immigrants for decades. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, oversaw a record 2 million deportations during his presidency.
Among those Obama deported was a man named Israel Concha, who came with his family to the U.S. when he was only 4 years old. After living for more than 30 years in this country as an undocumented immigrant, Concha was pulled over for speeding, at which point his “nightmare,” as he calls it, began. In an interview with me, he explained that from that point onward, “It was the U.S. government versus Israel Concha.”
At the time of his arrest, Concha was offered an order he could have signed that would have allowed him to be immediately deported. But he was a business owner and had just been married—his wife was expecting their first child. So he decided to legally fight the deportation and spent two years in various detention centers in the U.S. “I still remember the first time I met my son,” he said. “It was at an immigration hearing. He was so close to me, only a few steps away, but yet so far.”
Concha’s son is now 5 years old, and father and son have yet to meet freely and be able to touch one another. As the parent of a 5-year-old boy myself, the trauma of what Concha and his child are experiencing is unimaginably heartbreaking.
When Concha inevitably lost his case, he was immediately sent back to Mexico—a country he did not consider home—and was promptly kidnapped. Because of security concerns, he felt unable to tell me the details of his kidnapping—except to say that he was tortured by his captors. Eventually, he was freed and worked for a time at a call center where his fluency in English became an asset. Two years later, he founded a nonprofit organization called New Comienzos, which translates to New Beginnings. It is designed to help newly deported people find their footing in an unfamiliar land.