Rumors about deportation raids started to circulate around the fields again, so Catalina Sanchez and her husband began to calculate the consequences of everything they did.
Cirilo Perez, 36, had to go to work because the tomato crop was getting low, and he needed to pick as much as he could as fast as he could. Sanchez’s medical checkup would have to wait – going to a clinic was too risky. What they fretted most about was what to do with their daughter Miriam – a natural-born citizen in the third grade – who they worried would come home one day to an empty trailer.
“When she leaves, I wonder if it will be the last time I see her,” Sanchez, 26, said on a recent evening.
As President Donald Trump moves to turn the full force of the federal government toward deporting undocumented immigrants, a newfound fear of the future has already cast a pall over the tomato farms and strawberry fields in the largely undocumented migrant communities east of Tampa.
Any day could be when deportations ramp up; that, to them, seemed certain. No one knew when or where. And so the community here is in a state of suspension. Children have stopped playing in parks and the streets and businesses have grown quieter, as many have receded into the background, where they feel safe.
“It’s all gringos here,” said Maria Pimentel, owner of the community staple Taqueria El Sol, who said she had never heard so much English in her restaurant in her life. Business had plummeted, she said, because her Spanish-speaking customers were “scared to come out of their house.”
Trump has repeatedly cast undocumented workers from Mexico as “bad hombres” and “lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers.” Trump made clear during his campaign that “those here illegally today, who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and one route only: to return home and apply for reentry like everybody else.”