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The check-ins had become so routine that Audemio grew confused about his immigration status. And every month, he walked into the belly of the deportation beast, presented himself to the dreaded ICE, and then came right back out again. At the height of enforcement in , the Department of Homeland Security deported , people—a high-water mark that President Donald Trump has yet to surpass.
Under the new guidance, ICE mostly left noncriminal immigrants like Audemio alone, even if it knew where to find them. Just five days into his term, Trump issued an executive order that essentially directed ICE to take action on all known undocumented immigrants, criminals and noncriminals alike. Audemio drove past Miles City that morning on the way to Billings, tracing the braided contours of the Yellowstone River on Interstate 94, neat plots of alfalfa on one side of the highway, sandstone and silt badlands on the other. Miguel, 15, Jessica, 13, and Audemio Jr.
Karina, 17, his oldest daughter; Yajaira, 11; Brian, 4; and Brayden, an infant, were with Amparo.
When they pulled into the parking lot outside the federal building that housed the ICE office a little before nine, Audemio did something unusual. The boy shot his father a concerned look. Then he and Miguel got out of the truck and headed across the parking lot toward the building. Not long after, he heard a tapping on the window and looked up to see two federal agents in plainclothes standing outside the truck. Miguel stood between them, sobbing. Once he was in the truck, Miguel told his siblings what had happened.
He heard the locks click.
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He crossed back and forth between Mexico and the United States a number of times that year, and he says he was caught on eight occasions, but never officially deported. Things were different then.
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The consequences for getting caught rarely amounted to more than a free ride back to the border. For Audemio, as for millions of Mexican laborers, skirting the official immigration system was a way of life. Over the ensuing decade, Audemio found work as an electrician, a mechanic, a fruit picker, a welder, and a tractor driver. But they were building a life on a fragile foundation, and in September , whatever pretensions of security they had were shattered when ICE raided a field in Mariposa County where Audemio was working, sweeping him up along with several others and deporting him across the California border the same day.
In the next six weeks, Audemio would be caught trying to cross the border three times, once with a counterfeit Mexican passport and B-2 tourist visa in the pedestrian lane at San Ysidro.
Following these four deportations in a short period, Audemio received his year ban. With the removal orders on his record, he would probably never again have a case for legal immigration. For Audemio, this was a hassle, but not an insurmountable one. Sensing the risk, Audemio protested as best he could in his halting English, but he eventually handed over an ID from Washington state, where he had been living with his family for a brief time before moving to Montana.
The officer retreated to his squad car, returning a few minutes later with a cell phone, which he handed to Audemio. A man on the other end began asking questions: Did Audemio have papers? Was he in the United States legally? The Sidney officer detained Audemio until an agent from the closest Border Patrol station arrived to take him into custody. California, Illinois, and many municipalities throughout the country have implemented policies that limit collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities; other states, including Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia, have passed laws to give local law enforcement greater freedom to probe suspected immigration violations.
As for the Sidney officer who questioned Audemio, he appears to have been operating outside of his authority. They are not authorized by law to investigate or arrest people for their immigration status, and have no right to ask questions about your immigration status. Border Patrol agents transported Audemio to two different jails over the course of two days, until he arrived late in the afternoon of Friday, October 4, at the Jefferson County Criminal Justice Center in Boulder, Montana, more than seven hours from Sidney.
He was issued a pair of orange pants and an orange shirt, a gray blanket, a blue bedsheet, a towel and washcloth, and orange socks. As the jailer placed Audemio into a group cell called A-Pod, he told the nine inmates already in the cell that Audemio was an immigrant who was going to be deported. Audemio made his bed on the only empty bunk and took stock of his new companions. They scared him.
A couple of the men seemed to be leering at him, making lewd gestures and laughing. Perhaps, knowing that Audemio was about to be deported, they looked at him as an easy mark. Audemio sensed that the other inmates were afraid of him. Near bedtime, the skinny man asked the guards for a pot of coffee, which they brought.
Audemio drank two cups, then filled a third, which he set down to drink after his shower. When he returned from the bathroom, he finished his coffee and immediately felt drowsy.
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Soon he was fast asleep. Audemio awoke in the middle of the night face down on his bunk, gasping for air, unable to move his legs or his arms. His legs were angled off the bed so that he was almost on his knees on the floor. Someone was on top of him, and he felt the painful sensation of being anally penetrated. He tried to get free, but they had his feet and hands pinned. He attempted to look over his shoulder at his assailants, catching only a brief glimpse of shadowy figures standing around the bunk before someone forced his face back into his pillow.
He was asphyxiating and thought he might die. He suffocated and passed out without ever managing to scream.
The following morning, he woke fully dressed. There was an acute pain in his abdomen and he could feel moisture in the seat of his pants. He felt groggy, suddenly certain that someone drugged his coffee the night before while he was in the shower. In the bathroom, he felt what he assumed to be semen drain from his rectum. For two more days in A-Pod, Audemio waited out the nights sitting up in his bunk with his back to the wall, clutching sharpened spoons in each of his fists.
Before his rape, Audemio was certain to be deported.
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He did not even have the right to see a judge because of his prior removal order. But the sexual assault made him eligible for a special category of visa for crime victims. A recession had taken hold, and the number of immigrants, authorized and not, was growing. For decades, hostility toward immigration has risen and fallen alongside the unemployment rate. In California, the nativist right seized the opportunity with the passage of Proposition Republican Gov.
Pete Wilson made the proposition a centerpiece of his reelection campaign and rode it to victory. I think it can be done. At the time, the debate consuming centrist Democrats and Republicans was over how much to push back against the anti-immigrant right. When it came to enforcement, the question was not whether the policy should be harsh, but just how harsh it should be. The combined effect was to criminalize immigration in a dramatically new way.
For Clinton, it was just about enforcement, which he tried to use to ward off Republican attacks. Clinton laid the groundwork for a deportation pipeline that operationalized a rapidly-growing criminal justice system to remove millions from the country, militarized the border, and nurtured a paranoiac far-right narrative about a criminal alien invasion.
This was all in an attempt to outflank the Republicans. The pattern would repeat itself again and again over the following two decades. During the Clinton years, the parameters of the debate over immigration, much as with welfare and crime , were set by conservatives. Bill Clinton delivering his State of the Union address, where he advocated tougher border patrols and penalties for employers that hire undocumented immigrants.
We are the victims. Our children get shortchanged. If Clinton wins, we lose. While Clinton may have scored a short-term political victory, the real advantage would accrue to the Right. The myriad problems perceived to be caused by immigrants were becoming inseparable in American politics. Criminality was mentioned alongside concerns over government spending and labor competition, and the criminal justice system was becoming a key enforcement tool.