US Immigrants in Los Angeles Fear of Trump’s Chasers

DREAM Team LA activists sat down with Der Spiegel, Germany’s top news agency, to talk about the undocumented realities under President Trump.

Originally published in Spiegel Online

{Translated from German}

US immigrants in Los Angeles
fear of
Trump’s Chasers
Raids, mass arrests, deportations: Knallhart is implementing Donald Trump’s immigration policy. Many migrants live in fear, some submerge. Scenes from a new America.

From Los Angeles, by: Veit Medick and Marc Pitzke – Originally published in Der Spiegel

The elderly gentleman sobbed when two officers handcuff him. One last time he looks helpless back in the direction of the cell phone camera that shoots everything. Then he is pushed into a civilian vehicle and marched away.

For 25 years, the Mexican Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez has lived as an undocumented immigrant in Los Angeles – so far unmolested. But when the fourfold father now brings his two daughters to school, agents of the border protection agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) take him in front of his family.

The 13-year-old Fatima holds the moment from the rear seat of the car in the video , through the windshield, on which a rosary hangs. “Do not cry,” says the mother in Spanish. “We must be strong now.”

Such incidents are happening daily in Los Angeles. About one million migrants from Central and South America live here without papers, more than in any other US metropolis. For a long time they felt relatively safe.

But now, Donald Trump has given the Border Guard authority more power by decree, wants to see the laws uncompromisingly enforced: where formerly times was also looked away, is now deported. Many Latino families were thus already torn. It is true that the measures are supposed to only be taken by a serious criminal, but in fact, many others are coming into the net – such as Avelica-Gonzales, who is supposed to be deported for ten years because of a traffic disaster.

The fate of almost 900,000 so-called dreamers, who came to the United States as minors with their parents, and who still enjoyed special protection rights under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, remains unclear.

Among the migrants there has been fear of fear since Trumps. Many dive off, dare not go to the street, to the supermarket, to work.


Karen is sitting in a café in Huntington Park, South of Los Angeles. She talked for an hour, but she wants to show something else. A small card that she always carries with her. It is white, on the upper edge is a red strip. “Work permit card” stands on it, issued by the United States of America.

Zapien looks wistfully at the piece of plastic. For a long time it was something like their life insurance in the US.

But now? “Who knows what this card is worth?”

She wonders this every day. Karen is 24 years old, a dreamer: When she was one year old, her parents moved her from Mexico with friends to the USA.

Since then she has lived in Los Angeles. No one in the family has a passport, but Karen is an American, through and through. Highschool and Disneyland, ehrenämter and pop music. Your English is accent-free. For three years she has been studying business administration at the university, she is actually dreaming of a career as an auditor. But right now, she says, her life is more like a nightmare. Nothing seems safe.

“We’re all scared,” she says.

A few days ago, the uncle of her best friend was arrested and now awaits his deportation. There are daily raids in the neighborhood. Three out of four inhabitants here are Latin American immigrants.

Every shade of blue is now chasing Karen. Previously, she liked to go public – for big demos, for smaller protests, at parties and events. “Today I am afraid of showing myself.”

Karen is an example of how much uncertainty is, even before it is clear what the president really is. People who have never seen anything other than the US suddenly recognize their country again, feel observed, expelled. “There have always been prejudices against immigrants,” says Karen. “But they have never been part of the official policy.”

The parents are defenseless

Naive she is not. She can understand that many Americans are dissatisfied with the current immigration rules. She, too, considers a reform necessary. “But I always thought that the US was a land of opportunity. I have no feeling.”

Like Karen, many young immigrants find themselves in an identity conflict. They wonder where they belong, fear their future and do not know who they can still trust. Some have questions to their parents. Was it right to go to the USA? What if they had just stayed in the old home?

Karen hopes that her status as a Dreamer will protect her under Trump. The President has not yet decided how to deal with the program. But their parents are unprotected. Both work: The father is a carpenter, the mother sells clothes. They have never come into conflict with the law. But if Trumps government makes serious, the family can be torn apart.

It is their horror scenario. “What should I do then?” Asks Karen.


Betty has been living in Los Angeles for 30 years, now with three children. One daughter is American, another has a green card, but her son remains as Dreamer further undocumented as his mother.

As a meeting point, Betty chooses an open-air shopping center. Shop chains with false small town façades strive for a Disney idyll among millions of Molochs. From invisible speakers, Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” doodles.

Betty, middle 40, looks over her shoulders again and again. “I do not trust anyone,” she says. Her surname also implies silence, for fear.

Although she has been in the USA for so long, Betty still speaks only brittle “Spanglisch”. She lived in an almost hermetically sealed Latino world, in which she had little to worry about correct grammar and immigration laws.

That has changed overnight: “I feel so vulnerable all at once.”

Betty came to America to “seek a better life” and escape daily violence in her home country. “I felt free here,” she says. “And for the first time I felt safe.”

Trump won – and Betty collapsed

On proper papers, she never thought: “Nobody told me that I violated laws.” She was a babysitter, a cleaning lady, a housekeeper. Weekday in Los Angeles, weekend in Las Vegas – four hours, four hours back. Their income taxed them without having to disclose their migrant status.

It was only after a cancer operation that Betty was properly aware of her situation – and of her children, especially her son. She reproached herself for not taking care of the legal status of her family (“That was so selfish”) and began to engage herself as an activist for Dreamers and others.

The common struggle for migrant rights brought Betty out of her isolation, gave her courage and the feeling of being “protected by my people”. She participated in demonstrations and sit-downs, and once she was arrested. In 2012, Obama gave the Dreamers protection from deportation.

Then Trumps came to the election – and everything changed. Betty recalls how she collapsed crying: “Who is the most dangerous person in our house?”

The border guards recently intercepted undocumented immigrants at a large city in Los Angeles. Predominantly convicted criminals, alleged the authorities, adding a list of offenses, from “cruelty to children” to drugs, drunk driving and property damage.

“Most are trivialities,” says Betty, who knows some of the sufferers.

Since then, she has lived in an intermediate world, oscillating between defiance, fear and uncertainty. By car she drives extra cautiously, avoids any attention and even more the freeways, which are now often locked to controls. She does not want to creep, but she never wants to go back to her birth country: “America is my home.”