The dystopia is here

I wanted my story of detained children and deported parents to serve as a cautionary tale. Instead, it became reality.

LOS ANGELES • When Mr Donald Trump was announced the winner of the Electoral College - but not the popular vote - I was just finishing a book of short stories. They addressed many difficult issues, such as poverty, bigotry and violence. But as the grandson of Mexican immigrants, I felt I had to write one last story, one that would confront this man who got himself elected on a platform of hate and a promise to wall off the country of my grandparents.

So I wrote The Great Wall. In the dystopian future of the story, the wall is a golden, gaudy monstrosity decorated with bas-relief scenes from the President's life, from his childhood to his TV career to him signing executive orders.

But the real monstrosity of the story is the detention centre in San Diego, just inside the wall where children are kept until they are allowed to wave goodbye to their parents through cloudy Plexiglas, before the parents are loaded into black buses and deported.

I wanted my story to serve as a cautionary tale of what our country could devolve into if Mr Trump's immigration policies were fully realised.

But now, this is our reality: Sons and daughters are being ripped from their parents' arms - in some cases, literally - and detention centres are filled with frightened children.

In immigrant communities, the fear is palpable, with parents asking themselves if they should risk taking their children to school, or going to work or reporting a crime, lest they become vulnerable to a sweep by immigration agents.

Immigrants at a central processing centre in McAllen, Texas. Sons and daughters are being ripped from their parents' arms and detention centres are filled with frightened children.
Immigrants at a central processing centre in McAllen, Texas. Sons and daughters are being ripped from their parents' arms and detention centres are filled with frightened children. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

No one is safe.

Just this week, we learnt of Mr Jose Luis Garcia, a grandfather and authorised resident since the 1980s, who was handcuffed and taken by federal immigration officers while he watered his lawn in front of his home in Southern California.

We also learnt of Ms Elsa Johana Ortiz Enriquez of Guatemala, who travelled through Mexico and crossed the border into the United States with her eight-year-old son, Anthony, only to be arrested and then separated in the most horrifying of ways: After pleading guilty to unlawful entry, Ms Ortiz was put on a plane back to Guatemala, while her son was transferred to a shelter for migrant children.

If you live in a city like Los Angeles, the odds are that the victims of these policies are your neighbours and co-workers, the classmates of your children and the families who worship with you. You cannot pretend this is not happening here, now, and to people you know.

Some people in the Trump administration have defended the "zero-tolerance" policy - which has separated some 2,000 children from their parents - by pointing to Scripture and blaming their political opponents. Mr Trump himself is - worse yet - openly using the children's suffering as a bargaining chip to get funding to build his wall.

"The Democrats are forcing the break-up of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda," he tweeted, before demanding that they agree to an immigration Bill that pays for the wall. He capped his tweet with a rallying cry apparently aimed at supporters of his immigration policies: "Go for it! WIN!" Nothing, not in Scripture, not in the law, can justify harming children to make a political point.

A dystopia is an imagined, horrific place where people's humanity is replaced by fear. That's what I thought my story depicted - a place where my characters were stripped of their humanity and security, a place that was not yet real. I had hoped it would sound a warning about what our country could become if no one stood up to Mr Trump.

I am sickened to admit that - in its essential details - my dystopian tale has come true.

NYTIMES

• Daniel A. Olivas is the author, most recently, of The King Of Lighting Fixtures and Crossing The Border.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2018, with the headline 'The dystopia is here'. Print Edition | Subscribe