Jesus Berrones was one and a half years-old when his parents brought him from Mexico to the United States. Though here illegally, this country was the only one he knew. He grew up in Arizona and called it home.
When he was 19, he was caught driving with a fake license, probably obtained because he couldn’t get a real one without proof-of-citizenship. He was deported, came back, was deported again and came back again. It’s a pretty standard story of illegal immigration in the American Southwest.
After coming back the second time, Berrones started a family. He’s 30 now and has a wife, Sonia, and five children, with another baby on the way. They live in Arizona. Sonia and all of the children are American citizens. Berrones is the family’s sole breadwinner.
In 2016, his now five-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia. As always, he was under threat of deportation due to his own immigration status, but in 2016 Immigration and Customs Enforcement granted him a stay due to his son’s illness. Such a decision, in the past, was a typical one. ICE has discretion when it comes to deportation and it had traditionally declined to deport adults who were caring for sick children as a matter of basic human empathy.
Last month, with no warning, things changed: Berrones was told by ICE that he was going to be deported. He hired an attorney to attempt to renew his stay, but it was denied. Berrones is scheduled to be deported tomorrow, but he has since fled to a Phoenix area church which has taken it upon itself to shelter people facing deportation. ICE has no compunction about raiding homes and places of work to arrest and deport people, but it is reluctant to raid churches.
Denying a stay to Berrones and deporting him is certainly within the law, but like all exercises of executive and prosecutorial authority, it is also a choice. A decision driven by the political priorities of Donald Trump and ICE that inflicts needless suffering upon a five-year-old boy battling cancer and his father who cannot be by his side as he fights for his life. They could grant an exception here. They simply choose not to.
It’d be easy to make Donald Trump and ICE into over-the-top, out-of-touch mustache-twirling villains here, but they have backing in this madness. A lot of it. People like the ones who, when I tweeted about Jesus Berrones’ case last night, responded like this:
No, I do not believe that the most vile, primarily anonymous Twitter users truly and faithfully represent Americans as a whole, but in this case does it make any difference? The obscenity of the above-quoted sentiment is not the crude manner in which it was stated, but the outcome which such sentiment supports: deporting Jesus Berrones and separating him from is cancer-stricken child. Supporting other perverse family-destroying outcomes because doing so is sold as “getting tough” on illegal immigration. A lot of people support such obscene outcomes. Our president was elected, in large part, because they are outcomes he promised. Millions of Americans back him in this.
The people who responded to me last night may be particularly horrible, but in effect, they are no different than those who are convinced that the greatest threat to America is illegal immigration and who believe that no action which purports to fight illegal immigration can be truly bad because, hey, the law is the law. People who are fine with discretion and compassion being removed from our immigration decisions. People who have stood by with no concern as ICE has been transformed into an often lawless paramilitary force, devoid of human empathy.
One day, I hope, the sick, xenophobic fever and mass failure of empathy gripping this country will break. If and when it does, the history of this time will be written and, I suspect, Donald Trump will be cast as the villain. He’ll deserve that, but it’ll be a whitewash if he and he alone is cast in that role.
Millions of self-proclaimed good Americans support this obscenity. People who should have to go to sleep tonight and every night for the rest of their lives facing the fact that they chose, through their opinions, their votes and then through their silence to support a system which would deprive a cancer-stricken child of the love and comfort of his father.
That is who we are as a nation right now. Those are our values.