Should Sophie Run?
Let me introduce you to my daughter, Sophia. She is 21 and she loves to run. In high school she astonished everyone when she showed up as a senior and qualified for the state cross country meet. Later that year she tried track too, and quickly became a leading scorer for her team, often winning the 1500 and the 800. Now she just likes to run. Sophie’s early morning run is her one pure moment of freedom each and every day. Sophie has autism and cognitive disabilities. There are not many adult things she can do on her own, where she is in charge and free to decide for herself. But on her morning run she is free. She knows the neighborhood. She can turn right when she feels like turning right. She can take the hill when she feels like taking the hill. Down the hill? Sure, why not? For most of her day, Sophia’s life is fairly constricted and controlled. But she starts every day completely free.
Until today. Today we woke up to reports from around the country of agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sweeping through neighborhoods, stopping people as they walked, and setting up check points to catch out undocumented immigrants for deportation. For most of us, this is a remote story. I am a white, male, professional-looking guy. If I were to come upon a checkpoint, I could just show my driver’s license and go on my way. But if my skin were brown and my hair black, I would need more. I would need to prove that I am a legal resident of this country. I travel, so I have a passport. If I needed to, I could carry it with me. But do you have a passport? Do you have an official copy of your birth certificate? Do you have any papers you could show a police officer to prove that you are a legal resident of this country? Today, if you have brown skin and black hair, you had better get a passport and a copy of your birth certificate or naturalization papers and carry them with you. If you look like an immigrant, you have to be able to prove on a moment’s notice that you are a legal resident.
Sophia is not white. She is Roma. She has golden skin and black, silken hair. Most people around here—even people we know—assume that she is Mexican, Central American, or perhaps from somewhere in the Middle East. What if she were to encounter an ICE team working our neighborhood on one of her morning runs? Could she prove that she is a legal resident? She speaks a very simple, halting English and is easily confused. She wouldn’t be able to give her address, let alone carry on a conversation. She might panic. She would cry. How would an ICE agent interpret all of this? A young woman, probably Mexican, poor English, probably a recent immigrant, nervous, upset. What then? Would she be arrested? How would we know? ICE would transport her for processing to a city 200 miles away. How long would it take us to find her? Would she be afraid? Would anyone figure out who she is? Would we reach her before they put her on a plane to wherever they guessed she was from?
Sophia’s world, and ours, suddenly changed this week. It changed because she has dark skin and black hair. That’s a fact. From now on, she needs to stay close to her white parents, who can produce the documents and clearly explain things on her behalf. If she were white, we would not have this problem. That’s a fact. And this is what is fundamentally wrong and un-American about our current immigration policy and its enforcement. Sophia is less free today because of the color of her skin. She is less free because of her disabilities. She is less free because of a public policy that targets people who look like her and because she could not defend herself if an ICE agent were to apply that policy to her.
This morning we’re calculating the risks and costs of Sophia’s freedom anew. Should she still go for her morning run? There has always been some risk involved. But we know our neighborhood, which includes a lot of undocumented workers trimming and blowing and primping the landscaping. But we never thought of these men as a threat. They are friendly, hard-working people, focused on making a living. But when ICE comes to get them, what then? We’ve always taught our kids to regard the police as their friends and protectors. And now?
For now, Sophia is still out there running. She values her freedom too much to let it go without a fight. And we do too. But our eyes are peeled. And even now the neighborhood is strangely quiet. Where are the blowers and trimmers today? Do they know something we don’t? Should Sophie run?