I’m an American Citizen But I Still Fear Being Deported

When I first realized that Donald J. Trump would be the President of the United States of America, I was devastated in the same way that I know so many of us were. I felt disappointed, angry, and scared. My initial reaction was to wonder: How can I face the people in my life who voted for Trump, such as my Cuban father? As a proud bisexual Latina immigrant, I was suddenly afraid for what would happen to people like me… It felt as if anyone who is not a white, cis-gendered male is under threat. And that feeling has not left me since.

After my initial reaction and news about Trump’s administration began to pour in, the voice I kept hearing in my head continued to ask over and over again: How long before he comes after the citizens?

Trump’s vitriol against immigrants, and Latinos in particular, was well known by this point. He began his campaign trail with a speech that labeled Mexicans as “rapists” who are bringing drugs and crime into the U.S. And it didn’t stop there. Time and time again, he insulted any and every group who wasn’t like him and immigrants seemed to take one of the biggest hits. The latest, of course, is our vile president labeling countries like Haiti as a “shithole.”

It makes me sick to just think about it, but through it all, I thought I was safe.

But how safe can I, or anyone really be when the person leading your country seems hellbent on sending innocent immigrants who have been working hard and paying their taxes for decades back to their countries of birth? The voice in the back of my head keeps saying: How long before he comes after the citizens?

When Trump was elected to office, I remembered a quote by Martin Niemöller, a Protestant pastor who opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The quote, which sounds like a poem but actually came from Niemöller’s early postwar lectures, said:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

This is what has kept me up at night, thinking: Trump is going to go after immigrants who are violent criminals, but then he will come for immigrants who have committed minor crimes, those who are undocumented but have no criminal record, and eventually all immigrants. What will become of people like me, who came to this country as immigrants (legally or not) but are now naturalized citizens? Will we survive this regime, or will our American citizenship be questioned and, even worse, revoked?

How long before he comes after the citizens?

This week, I got my answer: Not long. We’re already at the stage of deporting all immigrants, aren’t we? If a law-abiding father from Michigan or a doctor from Michigan who has been in the U.S. for over 40 years can be deported, no immigrant should not feel safe. Even a naturalized citizen recently got his citizenship revoked so I certainly don’t feel safe.

My family, I admit, was luckier than most. My Cuban father and Russian mother brought us to America in 1994 and we were able to quickly seek political asylum (thank you, Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966). Six years later, my parents applied for and received their Naturalization papers — meaning that they went through the legal process for which a non-citizen of a country can acquire the nationality of that country. We became U.S. citizens and breathed a sigh of relief.

I was a minor at the time, but became a citizen too and proudly cast my first vote for president shortly after turning 18 years old in 2004. I was so proud to be an American and so proud to participate in our democracy. That feeling of pride left me after the 2016 election and has only been replaced by fear and anger.

Like many other Latinxs, I stand up for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and call my local congressmen to urge them to find a solution for DREAMers. We’re getting closer, sure, but the situation for all immigrants is still scary — especially after I heard about Operation Janus.

Never heard of it? Neither had I. According to Rewire, Operation Janus is a joint operation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It’s not entirely clear what the point of this operation is, but basically it started because USCIS granted citizenship to “at least 858 individuals ordered deported or removed under another identity when, during the naturalization process, their digital fingerprint records were not available,” according to a September 2016 document released by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General. Operation Janus, therefore, is an attempt to correct the USCIS failure to use fingerprint records effectively, basically for anyone who was granted citizenship before fingerprints were digitized.

It sounds pretty confusing to me, to be honest, but the DOJ announced recently that a judge from the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey has officially “entered an order” to cancel a person’s naturalization certificate, which effectively revokes his citizenship and reverts him to a lawful permanent resident — meaning now he is potentially subject to deportation.

Although you might originally read the above and say that 858 potentially affected individuals is not a high number, the article goes on to explain that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said they have identified nearly 150,000 older fingerprint “of aliens with final deportation orders or who are criminals or fugitives” that have not been digitized. Meanwhile, Operation Janus has identified 315,000 cases where individuals were granted citizenship without the proper fingerprint data available and, according to the DOJ, USCIS intends “to refer approximately an additional 1,600 for prosecution.”

Still, these numbers seem small and meaningless, right?

Don’t let it fool you, though. Just because the government is currently saying that only a few hundred or a thousand people may be affected, these people are U.S. citizens (some for decades) just like me or you. Really, many might be exactly people like me: Those who became citizens before digital fingerprints were a thing. I became a citizen in 2001 and I honestly cannot begin to tell you whether or not my fingerprints were digitized. Maybe? Who remembers that far back, really?

When I became a citizen, I was a minor. If DACA is passed, I would have qualified under that program to become a resident and citizen. And while that would be a big win for almost a million immigrants who came to this country as minors, often not having a choice where their parents took them in search of a better life, it’s not a win for everyone. America still needs a major immigration overhaul and a clear path to citizenship.

That is, if we’re able to stay citizens at all.

Perhaps I am freaking out for nothing. Perhaps I am terrified for no reason at all, and that I am truly safe as a naturalized citizen of this once great nation (I sure hope so!). But the pit in the bottom of my stomach, the one I have felt ever since November 8, 2016, continues to grow.

I sincerely hope we never see the day. I sincerely hope that DACA will pass and that immigration reform is on the horizon, too. I sincerely hope that the tide will turn and that people continue to speak out in support of the melting pot that made America great in the past. I hope that I am safe, too, and that I never have to truly fear my own deportation.

In today’s America, hope sometimes seem futile. Still, I hope. And I will fight. And I will likely continue to be angry and afraid, too. But I’m a proud American citizen and I will continue to fight and vote and use my voice to help my fellow immigrants as long as I can.

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