Elvis Ramos doesn’t sleep well. Some nights he dreams that he is permanently separated from his children, who are seven, eight and 10 years old. In other dreams he cannot find the employment he needs to support them, or they become casualties of Mexico’s drug war, which has killed or “disappeared” tens of thousands of people over the past 12 years.
Elvis is one of several thousand mid-Hudson Valley residents whose ability to continue living in the community that long ago became their home is threatened by President Trump’s decision to eliminate a federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Until late last year, the policy allowed some people who entered the country without authorization as minors to temporarily continue living and working in the United States.
What does Elvis see when he tries to imagine the future? “I don’t know,” he told me in early February through an uncomfortable smile. We were in the Newburgh office of Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, a grassroots organization that works in mid-Hudson Valley communities to secure rights for working class people who face discrimination based on the color of their skin. “I’ve had my current job for eight years. It felt like I had some freedom. Now all seven members of my family and I could be sent to Mexico, where the only person I know is my grandmother.”
If he is deported, Elvis assumes he will have to find work as a farmer, a trade in which he has limited experience and no skills. He fears that if he and his children join his grandmother in the town of Matamoros, Puebla then they could be kidnapped for ransom and killed, as occasionally happens there. “Where would I get money to protect us?” he wonders. If his ex-wife is also forced to leave the United States, then their children may live with her, away from him, in another part of the country. “I don’t like to think about it,” he said.
Elvis’s parents, who are not U.S. citizens, brought his two brothers and him from Tijuana to the City of Newburgh 18 years ago when he was 11 years old. “My dad used to make cars,” he explained, “but there were no jobs down there anymore.” After graduating from high school Elvis spent a semester studying graphic design at Orange County Community College before deciding to drop out because of the financial burden it placed upon his parents. His unofficial residency meant that he had to pay expensive out-of-state tuition and his part-time job did not cover his expenses. In the years that followed he worked as a landscaper, a painter and a driver.
President Trump has suggested that he will not deport non-citizens whom the government previously protected and who are not charged with crimes. But Elvis is not comforted. “We applied to the program, so they have our information,” he said. “Where we live and where we work; they know how to find us. They said they wouldn’t use it to deport us, but everything can change.”
I asked him what he thought of the answer some people give when they are asked to explain why the United States should spend scarce public resources tearing apart families and disrupting the lives of peaceful people—that “we are a nation of laws” and “laws must be enforced.”
“I hear that a lot too,” he replied. “Yes, we’re a nation of laws, but we change our laws to meet the needs of justice.”
Near the end of our conversation I asked Elvis if anything gives him relief from the nightmares. After a quiet moment, he said: “When people who are not Hispanic reach out and try to help us, when I see them at rallies, it helps me feel less alone.”
A version of this piece appeared in the Hudson Valley News.