When Natividad Gonzalez packs her daughters’ homework and lunches for school each morning, she slips a freshly charged cell phone into her eldest child’s bag. The 11-year-old knows the plan: If she and her younger sister, age 8, walk home from the bus to find an empty house, she’s supposed to call Gonzalez’s friend who will come get them.
Her daughter also knows the combination to the family safe, inside which is an ATM card and a quickly drafted power-of-attorney letter granting custody to the family friend in case Natividad and her husband are arrested and sent back to Mexico. “These are things that an 11-year-old shouldn’t have to be thinking about,” says Gonzalez, age 32, who came to Clanton, Alabama with her husband nearly 13 years ago, and is still undocumented.
For the 11 million unauthorized immigrants estimated to be living in the United States, it must be hard to think about much else. The initial shock over President Trump’s executive orders that expand the criteria under which immigrants who entered the country illegally can be deported has given way to chronic unease. In a departure from Obama-era guidelines that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) focus on removing the most serious criminals, the latest order includes those who have been charged—but not convicted—of a crime as well as those who have committed acts that “constitute a chargeable criminal offense” or pose a risk to public safety or national security in the “judgment of an immigration officer.” Another order expands the power of local law enforcement to act as immigration officers. That’s in addition to calls from the administration to increase ICE ranks from 20,000 to 30,000.