A uniform just pried little Xaco away from him. He didn’t have to try too hard. Antonio was weak and exhausted. He was taken by surprise. The delayed reaction was too delayed. He didn’t have the “aha” moment until it was too late. When he did, and put up a fuss, the agents told him they were just taking him for a check-up and a shower. Not to worry.
“Sabes mi nombre? Quieras mi nombre?” Antonio offered“Sabes su nombre? No neccitas su nombre?” Antonio pleaded trying to make sure the agents knew they belonged together. They were father and son… little Xaco. He was all he had!
“Papi, papi,” Xaco screamed as the guard carried his squirming body away. “Papi, papi!” The voice trailed off and the anguish for both of them was simply immeasurable.
Antonio had no idea where they had taken Xaco. The agents roughly escorted him into a cyclone-fenced cube inside a shopping center. He screamed for his son. He didn’t care about asylum anymore. He just wanted Xaco and no one would tell him, or even knew, where he was. There were no documents on him or Antonio. There were no phone numbers pinned to Xaco’s torn shirt.
Others in the cage began sharing what they knew. The kids could be anywhere. New York, Washington State, California, Virginia… scattered throughout the country. Some had already been given to foster parents who too quickly were developing an attachment to them, especially the babies. The older children’s faces showed only terror.
The very next day, Antonio was taken to an immigration hearing along with a group of other men and a few women who had no documentation on them whatsoever. The Spanish-speaking judge summarily charged all of them with a misdemeanor and then remanded them to ICE for immediate deportation. Some who were better educated and had a smidgen of legal representation, yelled “due process,” “please, asylum,” “your honor, I beg you to hear my story.” The judge ignored them all as he got up from the bench to take his coffee break.
Antonio knew he had better get it together quickly. Before the judge closed the chamber door behind him, Antonio yelled, “I will go. You may deport me. Just give me my son. Give me my Xaco!” The judge turned and looked at Antonio with less then sympathetic eyes. The door closed behind him.
Two agents to a man, they piled them into the back of a van and drove over a bridge to the Mexican side of the border. When the van stopped on the Mexican side, a mile or so south of the bridge, Antonio jumped out. He could see the official port of entry far off in the distance, across the river; a fence on either side made of iron and uniformed men with automatic rifles.
The guards asked the men which countries they were from so they could be transported back. No one would answer. One man spoke up in as broken an English as you will ever hear, that they wanted to stay there until their children were returned. It was evident they were going to be stubborn. One agent said, “Fine! Live out here in the desert where all scum die.” The guards climbed into the van and drove back over the bridge to the US side where another batch of “animals” was waiting to be escorted.
The men and women scattered in smaller groups and rubbed the dry earth into their clothing, trying to make themselves invisible. The wails and sobs continued unabated. Once in a while someone yelled out a name. Others screamed three or four. Antonio’s heart was breaking, but he was managing to think more clearly now. He swore he would not leave without his son. To him, the injustice was unbearable. He left Merida fearing for his life and the lives of his family. Now he had confronted another terrorist gang. It was called ICE. His Cuca was gone. He cared nothing for what might happen to him. But to lose Xaco would make him lose his mind. He had to do something. Taking Xaco was nothing less than abduction. Xaco was being held hostage. The ransom was to deter all who ever even thought of seeking a better life.
The men and women walked in the desert following the southern bank of the Rio Grande for a while. They would not go near it, but stayed within a few miles of it to keep their bearings. Eventually they just walked zombie-like due west. As they trudged through the desert, struggled over strange mountains and through wild canyons, more and more deportees joined them. At night they gathered around fires and tried to comfort each other.
Some asked how a Border Patrol or ICE agent would feel if their toddler had been pried from their arms and whisked away to God knows where. Some prayed for such an event. Everyone wanted them to go through what they were going through. Maybe then they would understand.
That’s when Antonio made the transition from meek asylum seeker to gang leader. This was not your ordinary gang, trafficking in drugs, all inked up and ready to kill for a buck or a territory. This was a gang of many breaking hearts all beating as one.
As they trod through the desert they met other victims of intolerable violence making their way to the border. When they learned what was happening and that children were being taken from their families, they turned around or mingled among the lost and confused. The policy of deterrence was working, but whom was it deterring? Certainly not the murderers, rapists and thieves that Trump insisted they were, for among this group, they knew of no one who fit that description. The policy was deterring people who wanted to show their gratitude with hard work and education.
The half-dead and disoriented gang now numbered in the many hundreds. They veered south letting the terrain guide them. By now, the refugees from the countries in question understood fully who this man Trump really was, and what his policies meant for them… hopelessness. What they couldn’t comprehend was how Americans with children of their own, and Christ in their lives, couldn’t empathize with their plight. They could not understand how one piggish, bully of a man could turn Lady Liberty into a whore.
Antonio came up with an answer. Since laws, due process, and their personal stories only led to more suffering, Americans must be taught empathy… by force if necessary!
They had traveled by every means possible from somewhere south of Laredo, through the Sonoran desert, almost to the Gulf of California. They wandered for almost a week. Mostly they walked, but sometimes they lucked out and were able to ride atop a train… something they were all used to. They all jumped off when they saw they were approaching a city in the distance. Even the young toddlers were getting to be experts at the dangerous game of getting on and off a moving train.
The “gang” became well known, almost celebrities. The people cheered them on, offered them food, and offered them encouragement. Even the local policia and federales clapped and yelled in support, their only way to show their disdain for the United States, at least under Trump. Like a pied piper, Antonio’s gang was getting bigger with every mile they walked.
Alamos was the city hiding in the rolling hills. It was branded the Pueblo Magico to attract tourists. There were American expat communities everywhere. All of them gated. All of them guarded. All of them filled with nice homes inhabited by retirees, artists, and families with children of all ages. They were nice people, weren’t they? Ironic that they were allowed to leave their country and live in another one with little hassle.
Antonio and other men gathered that evening to finalize their plans. They had picked out the most remote of the gated expat communities. Some men had managed to make pipe bombs, though that was only in case things got really rough. A very few had actually acquired guns along the way. There wasn’t much ammo, but the guns looked good. Carpenters made ladders out of tree limbs. Women gathered rocks that were light enough to throw, but heavy enough to do harm. They were also surprisingly adept at making torches and in capturing snakes to catapult over the walls. The older children knew exactly which chili peppers to gather, the ghost pepper and the habanero. Some of the peppers were crushed into a fine powder. One of the more ingenious kids came up with a bellows-like contraption made of coyote bones and rabbit skins… similar to a small bagpipe. It was easy to make and it spread a nice mist of “mace.”
The bulk of the peppers went to the women, from which they made one fiery hell of a salsa and bottled it in any kind of glass container they could find that still had a “best if used by” imprint and a label with instructions for use. Everyone contributed what he or she could, in whatever way they knew how. These were a productive people.
A young man about Antonio’s age volunteered to be a spokesperson. He was tall and handsome, well educated, had a booming voice and spoke excellent English and Spanish. His name was Tomas. After just a few days in the company of Tomas, Antonio realized he was no longer a scared, gullible, young man from Merida. He was now sophisticated in the politics of “border security” and all its implications… all its consequences… the most devastating being Xaco.
He was only two! Was he OK? Was he eating? Was he warm? Does he know his father is sorry? That he was confused and exhausted and would never have let him go if he knew what was going to happen? He would never give him away! Never! Did he know that? Antonio went to bed that night and quietly cried. He conjured up Cuca and hugged her tight. He imagined that he had gotten to hug Xaco before they were split apart. That had hurt so much. It was a spear through the heart. So that’s what he dreamed… that he got to hug Xaco and then hug him some more.
To be continued…