“All I do is work. I get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and I go to work. And I come back at 7 o’clock at night. That’s every day, except for Sunday. On Sundays I play baseball.”
What could possibly be more American than baseball and too much work? Except in this case, it is not the voice of an American, legally speaking, but a 29-year-old Mexican man named Bernabe who, for the past 12 years, has built a home in tiny Middletown, New York. He has done almost everything that the American government asks of a model citizen: He pays taxes, he doesn’t break the law, he works hard. But Bernabe is not a citizen; he’s one of the estimated 11 million people who came to the country illegally and whom Donald Trump says he will deport if the real-estate mogul and reality-TV star wins the presidential election.
“If he gets to be president,” says Bernabe, “probably he’ll send me back to Mexico. But I don’t know how you catch all the people. I don’t think the taxpayers here want to pay for that.”
He raises a good point. Setting aside questions about the morality of Trump’s deportation agenda for a moment, there are, of course, the practical issues. Among them: Undocumented immigrants are both the economic and cultural lifeblood of places like Middletown all over the country. Even if you could deport mass numbers of people—an expensive and legally challenging task by itself—doing so would erase years’ worth of slow, steady revitalization that immigrants have brought to America’s postmanufacturing towns. “You don’t have to look any farther than places like Dayton, Ohio, and Detroit, Michigan,” says Kamal Essaheb of the National Immigration Law Center. “Rust Belt cities, great American cities that have undergone economic depression—these are the places that immigrants are reviving. And these are the places that will suffer if mass deportations take place.”
When Bernabe left his family in Puebla, he was just 15 years old, traveling with one friend. They paid a coyote to lead them through the desert into Arizona. “People say to me, ‘Why did you come here illegally?’ I tell them, ‘OK, you love your family, right? I love my family.’ If you got your mom starving for food, you got to do everything for her. That’s what I’m going to do. If I die, I die.”
Bernabe originally migrated to Red Bank, New Jersey, to live with his father. But just weeks after he arrived, his dad had to rush back to Puebla because of a family emergency. Bernabe was suddenly a teenager on his own, with only a few English flashcards committed to memory. He was lonely and needed work. But he had a friend who lived in Middletown, so he figured he’d give that a try.