Two days ago, my sister-in-law, an immigrant from Mexico who works at the city's most popular Mexican grocery store, asked me what has happening in the news lately regarding immigration reform. We talked about a few things, but this conversation occurring in my second or third language, depending on how you rank things, I wasn't quite sure if there was some piece of news or information that had sparked the question. Immigration is a hot topic now clearly, and certainly I have had many such conversations with some of my employees and family in the past few weeks.
Yesterday, I heard a rumor here at home that "la migra" (immigration officials in Spanish) had been spotted at El Rey (the grocery store mentioned above) as well as the nearby Walmart. I didn't hear that there were arrests or anything, but it got me thinking about the possibility of immigration walking up to random people doing their daily business and then arresting them because they couldn't prove their legal status. It made me think, why couldn't immigration stop me, a regular white citizen, on the street and check my papers. Of course I "look" legal, so that's highly unlikely, but isn't it preposterous to imagine a world where not carrying your social security card or passport could criminalize you, cause you to be arrested? Without those documents, no one can really prove they are citizens, right? It looks like the rumors here were indeed rumors. Fermin told me today that it seems the police were in El Rey and Walmart investigating possible sales of cigarettes to minors, and someone mistook the uniforms for immigration and news spread.
Tonight, I got a call from my boss, sounding tired and stressed, asking me to find out if there had been any raids or arrests of immigrants in stores or other public places. She runs all the locations of my restaurant in Madison, as well as mine and the Delafield location and said she had to close one of her stores early tonight because all her employees were threatening to walk out if they didn't lock the doors and close. They are terrified that they are going to be picked up off the street and sent straight back to Mexico. Apparently there are real reports on the streets of Madison that immigration has been in Walmart and their local Mexican grocery rounding up shoppers and employees. This sent up big red flags in my psyche. How can immigration really just walk up to people and arrest them? Do they just look for the Spanish-speaking, the black-haired, the people who look "less American," what is the determination? What happens when they accidentaly stop a citizen, perhaps a teenage or early twenties child of immigrants, who fits their criteria but doesn't have papers with them? How do they just randomly arrest people without proof? I'm amazed at this, fascinated, horrified. I don't even know if its true, but from what my boss says, her employees are so terrified their risking their jobs, not showing up to work tomorrow, because they want to stay inside. That way they are fairly safe. I can't believe this is our country. I hope this is all one big misunderstanding, that some rumor has overtaken the immigrant community in Madison that will cause people to chuckle at their lack of faith in America in a few days. I fear I am wrong.