A question I didn’t expect

“One by one, we are liberating America’s towns and cities.”

— President Trump in Youngstown, Ohio, and Long Island, New York, last week.

While the line was delivered in the context of what looks to be an ineffective crackdown on MS-13, given the increase in deportations of those who are not a public safety threat, among other executive actions, I am not sure there is a more powerful summation of Trump’s current approach to immigration.

Whether the president’s opinion changes or not, the way Americans see each other is changing.

Over the last few months, I have talked a lot about There Goes the Neighborhood. Each conversation has a different flavor to it.

Last week at the Los Angeles Central Library ALOUD Lecture series, I was asked a question I’ve never been asked. A question that, in the context of Trump’s “liberation” immigration policy, has stuck with me. (The exchange is at the 55 minute mark of the event podcast.)

From the back of the auditorium she had raised her hand when the moderator started to close the conversation. She had brown curly hair, glasses, spoke with an urgency and emotion I had not heard in any other book talk.

She began with, “I don’t know if this is your realm or not.”

Her emotion checked my natural tendency to wisecrack that I am always willing to make up an answer. Instead, I leaned forward in my seat.

She told me about a friend’s experience in Santa Paula, a community north of Los Angeles in Ventura county — known as the, “citrus capital of the world.”

“While they were eating in this restaurant, ICE came in,” she told the auditorium. “The white customers were allowed to stay seated and eat their meal. Everybody else was lined up and asked for [immigration] documentation.”

My mind clicked to Trump’s Youngstown speech. Was this the “liberation” of Santa Paula?

She went on, “The children in the community are in terror. They are locking doors and afraid to go to school.”

The auditorium was silent.

I was expecting a legal question to follow. What are the rights people have? What should immigrants do in this context? Do you know any good lawyers?

Instead, she asked a question that keeps jolting me awake.

“What do we tell the children?”

(The Center for American Progress on the impact of immigration policies on America’s children.)

President and CEO of National Immigration Forum and America is Better, author of There Goes the Neighborhood, host of the podcast, Only in America.

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