January 23, 2018

Imagine you live in a rural county.  Imagine your neighbors – and perhaps you, even – voted for a candidate for public office who ran on a platform of deporting those suspected of being in your county illegally.
Imagine that candidate was elected.  Imagine, further, that after that candidate was sworn into office, your friends, neighbors, and fellow students began disappearing.

For some residents of Pacific County, Washington, there is little left to imagine.  Their life today is a daily reminder that elections have consequences – emotional consequences, economic consequences, real-life consequences for families whose lives are suddenly uprooted.  Families who may never be seen again.

The story of this county and its people was recently chronicled in Missing: Consequences of a Crackdown, a story that aired on BBC.

When it is one’s neighbors who are being deported, immigration begins to fade as a partisan issue and emerges as a humanitarian concern.  Says one Pacific County resident, whose name was not revealed by BBC:

“There are some Republicans here who are delighted with what’s going on with the enforcement of immigration.  But there are also a number of Republicans who are feeling very disgusted and saying this isn’t being done the proper way….I don’t think people thought about it.  I don’t think they believed that people’s rights would be trampled on.”

Flint Wright, Police Chief for the small town of Long Beach, which is in Pacific County, explains that the implications are not just humanitarian.  They are also economic.

“This year, what we’ve noticed is a lot of people who’ve been in our community for a number of years have been arrested and detained by ICE.  So it’s impacting the fisheries, the cannery workers, the cranberry bogs.  So I don’t know what they’re going to do.  I have no idea what they’re going to do.  These are all very much heavily dependent upon migrant workers.  But even more so than that, I think, people have just been emotionally in turmoil because they’ve seen people they’ve known for years: friends, acquaintances, neighbors, people who they’ve gone to church with, those kind of things, kids who are in school together, are just gone.”

Local school Superintendent Jenny Risner says about 25 students have been lost, out of a school enrollment of just over 1,000 – students like David, who went with his parents when they were deported to Mexico.

A classmate of David’s remembers:

“There was just this gigantic herd of people before he left.  And I remember just seeing half the people crying.”

Risner adds:

“It’s the empty seat where that kid was and (it’s) hard to explain to classrooms not understanding how this country is doing this.”

Scott Johnson is the Pacific County Sheriff:

“They’re taking the easy targets and we have one incident where a lady was selling some things, maybe on Craigslist or on the Internet, and they set up a time to meet with her and arrested her.  I’ve been told people are just going to work for the day and ICE is there waiting for them when they arrive at work.”

Wright, the Long Beach police chief, describes himself as “very politically conservative,” and says he voted for Trump.  He summarizes:

“It’s easy to hear soundbites and say, ‘yes, that’s great policy.’  It’s different when you’re implementing it and you start seeing, now wait a minute, this is actually affecting these people’s lives and that I didn’t sign up for this.  And shame on me for being shortsighted about it, okay?  Okay, fine, but…It’s not just. It’s not just.  To me.”

Meanwhile, even broadly popular measures like protecting the Dreamers remain stalled in Congress.  Maybe comprehensive immigration reform is not in the cards anytime soon, regrettably, but the BBC story is just one more reminder of how destructive deportations of long-time members of our communities are – for families, neighbors, co-workers, and friends.  We should not have to solve every part of the immigration problem to take steps right now to protect people brought here as children, or who, under Temporary Protected Status, have been allowed to set down roots for decades.  Wresting our long-time neighbors from their families and communities strikes people as wrong, as the short BBC video story powerfully shows.  These deportations are contrary to our values.

Here is the BBC video:

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