Galleon’s day began just like any other: A seven-year undocumented resident from the Philippines residing in Southern California, the former crewman had just dropped off his 9-year-old child at school before returning to his apartment complex.
However, when he arrived at the complex, unknown people were asking his neighbors about the location of he and his wife. Curious, Galleon spoke to them – but little did he know that he was speaking to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers assigned to arrest the couple. While Galleon was arrested and taken to a Department of Homeland Security office in Long Beach, his wife and child managed to escape through a back door.
Swept off to Los Angeles International, he was presented with two options: leave the country or face indefinite detention. Unaware of his legal right to retain a lawyer, Galleon – who had a spotless criminal record – chose the former. Within a week, his wife and children also returned to the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.
Galleon’s case has confirmed many of the worst fears within the Filipino community, as well as the broader Asian immigrant community, that they, too, could find themselves in the cross-hairs of the brutal immigration enforcement regime taking shape under the right-wing administration of President Donald Trump.
While deportations were not uncommon during the Obama era, Trump’s immigrant scapegoating and dog-whistle racism has clearly resulted in an amped-up approach to detention and removal operations toward undocumented residents.
“Before, we were helping with only two to three applications (for legal assistance) per week. Now we’re handling 30-40 per day,” Jorge-Mario Cabrera, communications director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, told Nikkei Asian Review. While most of the applicants have been Latino immigrants, the coalition is also seeing swelling interest from the large Asian immigrant community, where the fear is palpable.
While Mexicans and Central Americans account for almost three-fourths of the U.S.’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, Asians have accounted for the fastest growing unauthorized population in the U.S. from 2000-2013, according to a Migration Policy Institute report.
Wei Lee, a 28-year-old undocumented immigrant born to Chinese parents in Brazil, is the program coordinator for the group Aspire, or Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education, a pan-Asian group led by undocumented youth. Lee, speaking to Nikkei, noted the growing difficulties among his undocumented peers since the election of Trump: “Parents cannot drop off their kids without worrying about being picked up by (ICE),” a fate that befell Los Angeles father Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez as his weeping 13-year-old daughter filmed the ordeal.
Civil rights lawyer Karin Wang, the vice president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, feels that the increasingly aggressive anti-immigrant stance of the administration should be a source of concern for legalized non-citizens, as well, noting that Trump officials such as Steve Bannon, Steve Miller, and other white nationalists in the Trump cabinet are not “just against undocumented or ‘illegal’ immigration. Legal immigrants are also included in the targets. The administration wants to go back to a time before 1965, when the U.S. eliminated quotas against Latin Americans, Asians and Africans, triggering the explosion of immigration from those regions.”
Speaking to teleSUR, Los Angeles artist and Filipino-American social movement organizer Manila Ryce notes that he’s seen divisions crumble within Asian communities as increasing amounts of people wake up to the ugly reality being imposed by the current administration: “I think the model minority myth has created a false reality in Asian immigrant communities where some people still like to think of themselves as the good immigrants, which makes other communities the bad immigrants. I have seen that starting to change and solidarity between different immigrant communities being formed.”
Responding to the threats from the White House, immigrants are uniting to actively build common fronts for defense in regions like the San Francisco Bay Area, where diverse communities have fought side-by-side to enact sanctuary legislation while volunteers have staffed emergency rapid response hotlines capable of offering services in multiple languages such as Chinese, Spanish and Arabic.
“I think our role in an increasingly authoritarian society will be to take more direct approaches in disrupting deportations,” Ryce explained, noting that further deportations like Galleon’s can be prevented by “educating communities who are at risk, and challenging the respectability politics in our communities which keep us from truly defending ourselves.”