After election, sorrow and fear among immigrants
Milton Lopez opened his Everett market at 8 a.m. Wednesday, just like always, stacking the quesadillas, the fresh rolls, and the tamales for customers. But by mid-morning he was all alone, watching television with tears in his eyes.
Donald Trump, the Republican who would deport his relatives, his customers, and his friends, had defeated Hillary Clinton. And in some states, as the television showed, Latinos had helped him win.
“What’s done is done. There’s no going back,” said Lopez, a 42-year-old father of two from El Salvador who has a green card, but is worried about those who don’t. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was going to be her, but then he kept winning and winning and winning.”
As politicians called for reconciliation Wednesday, immigrants, Muslims, and others targeted in Trump’s rhetoric remained frozen in fear. Trump has vowed to deport millions of unauthorized immigrants, strip temporary work permits from thousands of others, and bar Muslims from coming to America.
This is in addition to building an “impenetrable” wall on the Southwestern border, ending sanctuary cities such as Cambridge and Chelsea that offer safe harbor to undocumented immigrants, and tripling the number of immigration agents available to deport people, according to his campaign platform.
In Chelsea, a majority Hispanic city where 44 percent of the 39,300 residents are immigrants, advocates looked shaken.
“You can imagine in a community like Chelsea what this means,” said Gladys Vega, executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative, a nonprofit that aids immigrants. “This morning I’ve been in bakeries and bodegas crying with people. . . . People are in a panic.”
Too distressed to focus in class the day after the election, Asaad Traina, a Muslim and a 25-year-old public health student at Harvard, joined his friend Mahmoud Elrifai for lunch at the cafe of the city’s largest mosque.
“He’s not racist in coded language, like we’re used to,” Traina said, referring to Trump. “He’s overtly super-racist and sexist and anti-Muslim. The scary thing is, all the people who share his views now legitimately feel like they can be open about that.”
Elrifai, also 25 and a research assistant at Harvard Medical School, tried to be optimistic. Yes, Trump has proposed surveilling mosques, creating a national registry of Muslims, and banning Muslim immigrants. But, Elrifai reasoned, the Constitution hasn’t gone anywhere, and presidents have a great deal more to worry about than making rules about Muslims.
“I hope it won’t go that far,” Elrifai said. “But I can’t say for sure.”
Still, many Muslims were worried about their safety. Hate crimes against Muslims surged in 2015 to their highest level since 2001, according to a study of 20 states released in September by researchers at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. In recent months, a steady stream of hate crimes against Muslims has filled the headlines: a mosque arson in Florida, a murder in Oklahoma City, a mosque in Arkansas covered with profanity.
And after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the US government created a now-discontinued registry of thousands of Muslim and Arab men. Hundreds were arrested for deportation.
But it’s not just Muslim men who are concerned.
“A lot of women are afraid right now,” said Malika MacDonald-Rushdan, the Massachusetts field office director of the Islamic Circle of North America Relief. “I’m trying to counsel them to put their trust in God, to be strong. There are still good people in America, and we cannot cave to this hatred and bigotry.”
Zachary Khan, 23, of Middleton, said he remembered how difficult it was to be the Muslim kid at school after Sept. 11, 2001, and he worried whether anti-Muslim sentiment would drive more young people away from their faith. He said many of his younger friends had been posting about their fears on social media.
“They’re worried, they think they’re doomed,” he said.
Anxiety also soared among immigrants from Latin America on Wednesday as advocates scrambled to reassure them that they would fight to keep them safe. Several immigrants said their children — who are overwhelmingly US citizens — asked if they would be forced to leave the country.
While immigrants said they agreed with Trump’s plans to swiftly deport criminals, they feared that ordinary laborers would be ensnared in that net.
Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but his platform says “all immigration laws will be enforced.”
That puts 11 million unauthorized immigrants at risk of deportation nationwide, including 210,000 in Massachusetts, according to the Pew Research Center. Trump has also said he would terminate President Obama’s executive order granting reprieves from deportation to undocumented immigrants who arrived as children and are now young adults.
As of June, 741,546 people nationwide have received a reprieve from deportation under Obama’s program, including several thousand in Massachusetts, federal officials said. In Massachusetts, these immigrants can get work permits and driver’s licenses, and qualify for in-state tuition.
Now, college students are worried about graduating. Others are terrified of returning to dangerous countries. And advocates who were planning Thanksgiving Day celebrations and holiday galas are now preparing immigrants to defend themselves from deportation.
“There’s real fear right now,” said Conrado Santos, lead coordinator of the Student Immigrant Movement and who obtained a work permit under Obama’s program. “But we are going to build community and we’re going to protect each other and we’re going to protect our families. We’re going to fight back. We’re not going to go easy.”
Chelsea, the community with the highest percentage of immigrants in Massachusetts, also faces economic threats if Trump carries out his deportation plans. Immigrants spend their money in the city’s bakeries, banks, and markets.
And Trump has said that he would strip federal funding from sanctuary cities like Chelsea that refuse to help deport immigrants.
On Wednesday, City Manager Thomas Ambrosino said Chelsea has no intention of helping deport immigrants who haven’t committed any crimes.
“We’re not interested whether you’re documented or undocumented as long as you’re here trying to do what’s right,” he said in an interview in his City Hall office. “We’re happy to have you as part of our community. And this election changes nothing.”
But he acknowledged that Chelsea is powerless to stop federal immigration officials from arresting immigrants in the city.
“My hope is that is not going to happen, but I don’t control federal immigration policy,” he said.
Minutes before he spoke, a 44-year-old woman named Digna sat in the waiting room of the Chelsea Collaborative around the corner, her face red from crying. She said federal immigration agents had arrested her housemate Tuesday. The next morning they came for the landlord’s son.
She fled the house, fearing deportation to Honduras, which has one of the highest murder rates in the world.
Nidia Ruiz, a 41-year-old legal immigrant from El Salvador who lives in Malden, saw the woman’s distress and pointed out that illegal immigrants have already been subjected to eight years of deportations under Obama. Federal statistics show that he has deported more than 2.4 million immigrants.
“Imagine this is happening now,” Ruiz said. “Imagine what’s coming.”