Fabiola Santiago

Trump said he’d round up ‘bad hombres.’ How did a Jamaican grandma get on that list?

Police board Greyhound bus, demand proof of citizenship from passengers

On Friday, January 19, 2018, U.S. border patrol officials boarded a Greyhound bus in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and demanded proof of citizenship from every passenger.
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On Friday, January 19, 2018, U.S. border patrol officials boarded a Greyhound bus in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and demanded proof of citizenship from every passenger.

The green uniforms of the Border Patrol agents checking papers aboard a Greyhound bus — and picking off a Jamaican grandmother who had been visiting her family in Orlando — take me back to film reels of the Gestapo boarding trains hunting for Jews.

The uniforms also evoke a scary time when I was a little girl and green-clad milicianos faithful to the Castro regime stopped my parents on a lonely country road in Cuba. They didn’t think they were doing anything wrong, only exercising their due diligence to the Revolution by searching for illicit food purchases that to us meant a week’s survival.

Unbelievably, heinous deeds of history readily come to mind in this day and age in America, illuminating just how low this country has fallen under the Trump administration’s cowardly idea of immigration enforcement. We’re not the world’s beacon of justice on human rights anymore.

Because what was done to Grandma Beverly may have been legal, but it wasn’t right or decent.

In the country legally with a visitor’s visa, she had just met her granddaughter for the first time. Her daughter-in-law had put her on the bus route that shuttles hundreds every day from the Disney World area to Miami.

It should’ve been only a four-hour or so bus ride. Imagine the family’s worry when they didn’t hear from Beverly for days. The Border Patrol, which has her in detention, didn’t even have the decency to contact her family. As of this writing, her fate remains uncertain. The only evidence of what happened to her is video taken by bus passengers of Beverly being questioned and escorted off the bus with her red suitcase. And her name has been located by the Florida Immigrant Coalition on a federal center’s detention list.

Beverly’s crime to merit living through this ordeal: overstaying her tourist visa.

This scenario is a far cry from President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to rid the nation of “bad hombres” who commit serious crimes. Such an initiative would entail brave, risky law enforcement, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright might put it, by agents with some real cojones.

But with the full backing of the White House, the Republican Congress and states like Florida led by anti-immigrant Republicans, Trump’s minions are going after the lowest-hanging fruit in the nation, the easy grab.

And because companies like Greyhound also act in complicity, again on Tuesday the Border Patrol targeted the same Miami-Orlando bus route, this time on the Fort Lauderdale stop on the way to Disney.

A man from Guyana whose father, a U.S. citizen, had submitted a petition to sponsor him was taken off the bus, detained and transferred to Monroe County Jail, a spokeswoman for the Florida Immigrant Coalition told me.

The federal government’s excuse for boarding a vehicle and searching people without probable cause that a crime has been committed and without a warrant is that Florida’s peninsular geography means its roads are within the 100-mile scope of what constitutes “borders.”

Faced with outcry over Beverly’s case, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued this statement: “FACT: Immigration law states that Immigration Officers, without a warrant, may ‘within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the U.S. … board and search for aliens in any vessel, rail car, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle.’”

To which the ACLU, which is partnering with the Coalition on these cases, fired back: “In practice, Border Patrol agents routinely ignore or misunderstand the limits of their legal authority in the course of individual stops, resulting in violations of the constitutional rights of innocent people. These problems are compounded by inadequate training for Border Patrol agents, a lack of oversight by CBP and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the consistent failure of CBP to hold agents accountable for abuse. Thus, although the 100-mile border zone is not literally ‘Constitution free,’ the U.S. government frequently acts like it is.”

The reason the Border Patrol and ICE feel entitled to act as they want is that, barely a month in office, Trump gave carte blanche via a series of sweeping executive orders to the Department of Homeland Security to identify, detain, and quickly deport any undocumented immigrant whom agents come upon.

“Immigrant cities like Miami will most likely become hunting grounds,” I wrote then.

And that’s exactly what’s happening. There is even more eagerness in the state of Florida, now that the Legislature has joined the anti-immigrant bandwagon full-throttle and is poised to pass HB9, which orders all local agencies and law enforcement in the state to help federal authorities round up the undocumented. Most local police departments don’t support this measure. They know this means crime will be harder to keep in check without witnesses coming forward or reporting crimes.

But Trump policy isn’t about law and order. It’s about social-engineering a less diverse society. He and his men in green place a higher value on targeting and removing people of color than solving crimes and keeping communities thriving thanks to the hard work of immigrants.

Like all others before it, the Trump administration will come to an end.

But the image of a defenseless black woman in a knit hat being picked off a bus will stay with us forever.

May the granddaughter she traveled to meet grow up to be the kind of American who stands up against injustice.

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