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My First Time Facing the Anti-Immigrant Crowd

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secure communities protestWritten by Mariano Cardoso:

The Secure Communities Task Force hearing in Arlington, Virginia Wednesday night was not my first protest, but it was my first exposure to what we call “antis”—people from the anti-immigrant crowd.  Some were reasonable, and some were not. Some were people I felt I could have a conversation with, and some were so unbelievable in their comments and beliefs that I thought they must be joking.

We met up at St. Charles Barromeo Catholic Church before the hearing, and attendance there was very good.  Many activists were there, including people from Casa de Maryland, who introduced us to two working mothers who shared very similar stories.  Maria Bolanos and Florinda Lorenzo are single mothers facing deportation due to local law enforcement turning over their information to ICE.  In Maria’s case, she had been arrested after calling the police during a fight with her partner.  Now she’s afraid she’ll be deported away from her daughter.

Afterwards we marched from the church to the site of the hearing at George Mason University.  The march was lively and earnest, featuring familiar faces from previous rallies.  There was the usual United We Dream crew and even familiar reporters.  It was almost like a family reunion of sorts.  After marching around the entrance for almost half hour, we made our way into the hearing.  It felt good seeing such a large turnout against Secure Communities.

The hearing began smoothly and cordially as the task force introduced themselves.  The mood changed immensely after the first person spoke.  He was an “anti,” and it was my first time witnessing someone directly speaking against immigrants.  It was riveting, the way he spoke about his personal experience with an undocumented immigrant.  He had memorized the person’s name, including middle name and both last names.  He spoke about the person as if he was not human…as if he was naming a species of animal.

At first, he seemed earnest and frank about Secure Communities being the best policy for Virginia.  But as he continued, he began to use offensive terms, speculating that a murderer in his neighborhood had been “an illegal.”  He lost even more respect when he brought up 9/11, which prompted our immigrant supporters in the crowd to yell that “we are not terrorists!”

I could not believe my ears.  I was incredulous that someone could blame immigrants for as much as he did.  I thought it some twisted joke gone wrong.  But I checked myself, and realized this was not a game. This was not acting. This was not funny. This was as real as it got. 

To this man, I was no different from a murderer — we were all just “illegal immigrants” to him. Seeing someone blame so much on me — calling us all “illegal immigrants” — was unnerving.  He was so misinformed, and ignorant of the fact that we are not the danger he visualizes.  He was concerned for his own safety and that of his neighbors, and did not care to understand that the rest of us in the audience—his immigrant neighbors—just want the same thing as he and most other Americans do: A chance to live peacefully with our neighbors, pursuing the opportunity that only this great country can provide.