Philly's 'undocumented' live in fear of deportation under Trump

Cristina Martinez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, is co-owner with her husband of South Philly Barbacoa restaurant.

It is not just irresponsible but ludicrous that Congress and the president would ignore the need for comprehensive immigration reform even as government agents round up and deport scores of the undocumented who deserve an avenue to legal residency in this country.

In a special report titled “The Undocumented,” staff writer Luis Ferré Sadurni shared stories of immigrants who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas and are now living in fear that any day might bring their arrest by the Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

These are men and women living otherwise law-abiding lives and making positive contributions to their communities. Arresting them and sending them back to their homelands would needlessly break up families and, despite all the hot rhetoric to the contrary, would do little to nothing to make America safer or more prosperous. Here are some of their stories as told by Sadurni:

Carmen Guerrero, 49, crossed the U.S. border from Mexico 18 years ago to find safety from kidnappers who had released her. She worked as a hotel housekeeper to raise the money to smuggle her three daughters into this country. They found refuge in King of Prussia, but now fear ICE will come knocking. Guerrero is one of the organizers of Coalición Fortaleza Latina (Latin Fortress Coalition). “We want to live in the liberty every human being deserves,” she said.

Agung, 51, a former Catholic missionary who won’t reveal his last name, has lived in Philadelphia ever since he arrived from Indonesia on a tourist visa in 1999. Unable to obtain political asylum or afford college to get a student visa, Agung worked at dry cleaners and volunteered at local hospitals. But he has cut down on the volunteering to avoid ICE. “I feel I’m not a human being without volunteering,” he said.

Cristina Martinez, 47, is co-owner of South Philly Barbacoa, which is on Bon Appétit’s top 10 list of America’s Best New Restaurants. After five tries, Martinez crossed the Mexican border illegally in 2009. She says President Trump’s election caused many of her customers to shun the restaurant out of fear it would be targeted for an immigration raid. “This isn’t a game anymore. Our president is hitting rock bottom,” she said. “What can we expect he’ll do to us.”

With an estimated 50,000 undocumented immigrants, and a mayor who has promised sanctuary to all who qualify, Philadelphia appears to be a Trump administration target for its heightened deportation efforts. Between Jan. 20 and March 13, more than 350 immigrants with no criminal convictions — six times as many during the same period last year — were arrested by ICE agents for being here illegally.

With so much emphasis on deportation and Trump’s border wall, it’s hard to believe Congress debated a more logical approach 10 years ago when Sens. John McCain and Ted Kennedy, a Republican and a Democrat, crafted a bill that improved border security, fined the undocumented, and provided a long path to citizenship.

Unfortunately for Carmen, Agung, Cristina, and America’s 11 million other undocumented immigrants, Congress and Trump are nowhere close to applying logic to immigration.