By Rob Schapiro
EDITORS NOTE: G RESPECTFULLY ASKS THAT HIS NAME AND LIKENESS NOT BE REVEALED.
What the camera would show you is a person who stands just inches over five feet.
But this is not a boy. This is a man. If you could look more closely, you would see ropes of muscles running down his arms to veined hands. His jaw is strong and set. If the camera could zoom in on G’s face, it would capture eyes that have seen hard things. These are the eyes of a man who appears to have lived longer than 35 years.
But they are not hard eyes. They seem wise.
At this particular moment, G’s eyes shift to a flashing red light in the rearview mirror. He remains calm. He’s done nothing wrong. G’s foreman has entrusted him to take the truck and pick up lunch for his construction crew working in Beaver. It’s October 17, 2018. The ACLU will later consider taking up G’s case as potential racial profiling, because he was stopped for no other reason than the color of his skin. G has no documents. He is placed in the squad car and taken to the police station where his shoes and phone are removed. He will spend three hours in jail. He is ticketed $800 and allowed to leave because he takes care of his 17-year-old nephew, who is enrolled in high school. G walks miles back to work. His boss promises to fight the ticket, an indication of how much he values the work G does. The person he is.
It’s October 19, 2018. Two days later. Six in the morning. Seven ICE agents wait outside a modest home. Into their hands walk two unsuspecting Guatemalan brothers, 24 and 26, who are leaving for work as they do every morning. When asked where G is, they open the door and let ICE into their home. ICE’s haul will include the two brothers, their 17-year-old nephew, who is getting ready for school, and G, who is getting ready for work. G’s nephew has already left for school.
They are taken to a van waiting in the parking lot of a funeral home next to the McDonald’s on Liberty Avenue. This morning has been an elaborately planned collaboration between Beaver Police and ICE. It seems more suited for those who have committed serious crimes. The van transports the group to the ICE office where their hands and feet are cuffed, their fingerprints are taken and they are put through seven hours of processing.
The brothers will be sent to detention at Cambria and ultimately deported. Their nephew will be sent to a shelter in Virginia. G will be fitted with an ankle bracelet and required to report back to ICE every two weeks. He is spared because he is responsible for his own nephew. And yet his friends and their nephew are sent away. There is no consistency to how people seeking a better life here are treated. Rules and regulations change without rhyme or reason. Or compassion.
There are no rules in Chajul, Guatemala, where G grew up.
He is the youngest of seven. He does not know his mother, who died when he was six months old. His father never told him how. G began helping his father in the fields at the age of six. He dreamed of wearing the uniform of a soldier. At 19, he joined the military and witnessed corruption at the top. At 25, he joined the police and saw the same.
Because he refused to look the other way, he was attacked by gang members. He wears the scar on the back of his head as a reminder. At 26, he married an 18-year-old friend of the family and they had a son. Gangs and poverty continued to threaten them.
G felt the only way to provide for his family was from thousands of miles away. The price would be thousands of dollars to pay coyotes for his journey to Pittsburgh, where he knew people who might help with work. He hoped to earn that and more in America.
After eight years in Pittsburgh, G has become a drywall specialist. He works six days a week, seven when he can. He is the head of a household that now includes not just his nephew, but two brothers-in-law, one of their sons, their cousin and her two daughters.
G speaks often with his wife and 9-year-old son, who still live with his father in Chajul.
He sends them money every month so his son can go to a private school where he can get a better education and be safe from gangs. G says he is content here when he is working. He hopes he will be permitted to stay. And he prays for a time when his wife and son can join him. He does not know when that could be. But someday maybe the camera will show a new portrait. A family portrait. Of G, together with his wife and his son.
Rob Schapiro is a marketing professional living in Pittsburgh.
NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 40 No. 10. December/January, 2019/2020. All rights reserved.