Ignore the guys at work and their water-cooler talk of “foreigners” and “criminals who finally will get what’s coming to them.”
That strategy has served Liz (not her real name, see below) well, so far. If nothing else, it keeps her from dwelling on things she shouldn’t.
Such as the decades of hard work, sacrifice and contribution — learning a second language, missing weddings, funerals and births, volunteering at the food bank, coaching little-league soccer, building a business, creating jobs, sending kids to college — that haven’t secured for her the basic human rights that winning the birth-geography lottery would have.
She understands that trying to make sense of her situation would only make trouble.
It might, for example, start her thinking about her quiet, American, teenage boy, the illness that nearly killed him, and his chances of survival in Mexico, a place he’s never been. Would he be better off stateside, without his parents? How do you make that choice?
Open the door to questions of that ilk and soon you’re on a slippery slope to worrying about narco cartels (funded by American appetites) perpetrating violence (with American guns), and “you know… how Mexico is now.” Could you bring your life savings with you? Should you? Would it matter? What future could your kids hope for there?
Once you’ve reached that line of inquiry it’s too late to head-off the tears, the racing pulse and “that drowning feeling again.”
And you can’t afford that. Panic attacks attract attention.
So ignore the talk. Focus, instead, on those few things you can control.
Triple check your tax return. Make sure each bill is paid early. Document everything. Make multiple copies of your records. (Two decades of navigating the system has yet to help you, or your lawyer, predict what immigration officials will require next, but it has taught you that the longer the paper the trail, the better).
Don’t go to Casper, Denver, Salt Lake City or anywhere else that ICE raids dominate the rumor mill. In fact, avoid everywhere but work and home. Keep the car in meticulous working order. When you have to go out, drive very, very carefully.
Politely refuse to turn the deadbolt unless police slide a valid warrant under your door. Even then, read it carefully. Pray you never need to call 911. Do not lie to the authorities, ever, but know which questions you do and don’t have to answer.
Make guardianship and asset transfer arrangements for your kids, just in case. Establish the necessary powers of attorney.
Take your anti-depressants.
They may help you stop wondering where, after a decade of toiling side-by-side, your coworkers’ newfound venom is coming from.
Take solace in not hearing it from the boss. Remind yourself that he knows who gets the job done. Hope that that will continue to be enough.
WyoFile spoke with eight undocumented immigrants, from numerous countries, living in various communities around Wyoming, about their experiences for this story. We’ve agreed to not publish their names. “Liz” is based largely on one woman, but her story includes features and anecdotes of other interviewees as well — Ed.