By Sumbul Siddiqui
My parents immigrated to the United States when I was 4 years old, hoping to give their children a better life. I was raised in Georgia with my three younger siblings, two of whom were born here. Georgia has a policy called 287(g), in which some counties are proud to work together with ICE agents to detain immigrants.
My first encounter with ICE officers was probably when I was 14 years old, just about to enter the 9th grade. I remember this moment very well, because the night before I had watched this scary movie called Saw. So, I was terrified that someone was going to kidnap me. I checked my closet and slept with the lights on that night. No one came for me, but my mom was taken. Two ICE officers entered our home that morning. I only heard bits and pieces because my mom had closed my bedroom door and told me to go back to sleep. Eavesdropping, I heard them tell my mom to go with them, and she would return back to her family soon. That took 3 months. She was taken to the Atlanta Detention Center, and then transferred to an Alabama detention center.
I don’t remember much of what happened during that time, but I do remember visiting my mom in the Atlanta Detention Center. We were only allowed to see her for a brief moment. She was wearing an orange jumpsuit – crying. Her handcuffs were taken off so she could talk to us through the glass window. I told her that everything was going to be okay even though I had no idea what was going on – or really, a clue about our immigration system. When my mom returned, I started high school, and I didn’t think much about immigration again.
Fast forward to my sophomore year in college. They come for my dad. Within just a few months, they come for my brother. My dad was gone for 2 years, and my brother was gone for 7 months. They were both in two different detention centers. Sometimes, I had to figure out who to visit – whether I would drive an hour up from Atlanta to see my father or 3 hours down to see my brother.
My brother was held at Stewart Detention Center, a very old facility in the middle of nowhere. We saw each other through a glass window and spoke to each other through a phone – except the phones didn’t work so we spoke as loud as we could to hear each other. Once, he told me he wanted to self-deportand that I didn’t truly comprehend that conditions he was living in. All I knew was that if he self-deported, then he would have a 10-year ban on him before he could apply to re-enter the United States. So, I told him to just be strong and patient. There has been a report released on the conditions of Stewart Detention Center – four people have already died there. I think to myself – that could’ve been my brother.
2 years and 7 months – I had no father, and I missed my brother.
2 years and 7 months – I figured how to become that kind of father figure for my family – for my youngest brother and sister.
2 years and 7 months – I took care of a broken-hearted mom.
2 years and 7 months – I will never get back.
In October of 2017, I had the opportunity to go to Washington, DC to advocate. I was super nervous meeting my representatives, but they are just human beings. I’ve learned that they take notice of how many calls they receive and pay attention to common themes. But most importantly, I’ve learned that it’s not them that have the power; it’s the people – it’s us.–
Hold your representatives accountable because the laws they make impact our friends, our community – our future patients. Do they represent your values? If they do – thank them.
For those that don’t,
Ask – Have you forgotten your history? – When the Native Americans took your ancestors in? When they were looking for a better life?
Ask – Have you forgotten that American foreign policy has caused a lot of the home countries of refugees and asylum seekers to become unstable? They are coming to our borders because of the unsafe conditions of their own homes.
Ask – When did it become okay for families to cross dangerous terrain to save their children – only for their children to be separated and then die at American detention centers?
Ask – Why are our tax dollars being used to fund for-profit detention centers instead of community centers where can we heal and treat our asylum-seekers and migrants for the dangerous journey they have undergone?
Tell them: We will hold you accountable. We will remember you when election day comes. We will not be fooled.
Some politicians think that we just want families to be reunited. But that is not what we want. Families should be together, but not indefinitely in a detention center where such inhumane conditions exist.
This year, the M1s had to read the book “Dear America,” and some people were left feeling helpless at the immigration situation. But don’t lose hope. If you are a citizen, you have more privilege than any of us to be a voice for those who have none. If you asked me years ago, I would never have thought to be surrounded by people who care about immigration and justice when I used to be so alone. As more people become educated and aware, politicianstake notice. The new Atlanta mayor has stopped accepting any more detainees at the Atlanta Detention Center and is working on transforming it to a community center. That is the power of the people.
So, hold your representatives accountable. I ask again – do they reflect you?
Sumbul Siddiqui is a student in the MD-MPH at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. She is a DACA recipient who recently completed her public health studies and has entered the medical school with the class of 2023. She presented these remarks at a Call to Action event sponsored by the Latino Medical Student Association of the Stritch School of Medicine on September 3, 2019.