I Still Have Your Luggage Tag

By William Lopez

On May 24th, 2017, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided a local Ann Arbor restaurant next to the University of Michigan campus. ICE agents went in with a warrant for single man, but arrested three to five others, including a Legal Permanent Resident. The community was angry that the agents had the gall to eat the food prepared by the staff and then arrest them—yet in many ways, this is an apt metaphor for perceptions of immigrants in the contemporary United States: We welcome your labor, but we do not welcome you.

While the thought of eating an omelet and then arresting the cook is abhorrent, I am struck by a process happening over and over in our country: The use of a single warrant to arrest anyone “suspected” of being undocumented. This amounts to legalized racial profiling. My doctoral research similarly focused on a home raid in which many Latinos were arrested although only a single individual was the alleged target.

At times like these, academic writing feels too constrained to cut to the core of the suffering we witness. For me, I turn to other forms of writing--poetry, prose, short stories--to capture what a peer-reviewed article cannot. This poem is a compilation of experiences of the raid I studied for years of my life and of this most recent raid on May 24th.

 Photo credits: Celena Lopez

Photo credits: Celena Lopez

I Still Have Your Luggage Tag

I still have your luggage tag in my bag. I carry it with me, can't quite seem to let it go.

It's not a luggage tag really. It's a suitcase tag. It's a number, an identifier, a CURP, a code, with the matching code attached to a maleta that sat in the immigration office as your plane took off to deport you.

I thought I delivered the maleta on time. I remember doing it as soon as I could, blocking off a whole day to go to the immigration office so they could get it on your flight with you. I really care about your sister, and her heart was broken when you were taken, when her son lost the third father figure from his life. All because you happened to look like Ignacio. You and everyone else in the truck looked like Ignacio

I don't think they actually give a fuck who Ignacio is. I think they saw a truck at a gas station that looked like it was on its way to cut a yard, to fix a roof. I think they thought about the promise Congress made to fill 34,000 detention center beds a day. And I think they had a warrant for some Ignacio somewhere. And they saw a truck of three Ignacio look-alikes. So they followed you out of the gas station. They pulled you over. They asked you all for papers.

And they got three Ignacios closer to their congressional mandate.

So I took the maleta to the immigration office for your sister. I thought I was being kind, but really, I was just being privileged. Even though I'm brown, I have a driver's license. And I would never ask your sister to drive to Detroit. I-94 is a war zone. The body count is high.

I remember wondering what was in the maleta. What do you send to someone who has just been deported?

Of course, poverty knows no privacy, and as I stood outside the metal detector the security guard emptied its contents in front of me.

It was then that I started to understand what was happening.

There were small tubes of toothpaste. Bottles of shampoo and conditioner. A toothbrush. Soap. So you could be clean when you got back to Honduras.

Then there were the jeans.

They were nice jeans. With designs on the back pockets. Crosses made of gold and bronze studs. The kind of jeans that you could wear with alligator skin boots and a cowboy hat to a sobrino's first communion. Nice jeans. I wondered if they were brand new.

Then I noticed the sweatpants.

They still had the price tag on them.  They were new. Maybe the jeans were too. I imagined your sister making the decision to spend two day’s wages--two days of bending down to clean hotel rooms--on jeans and sweatpants. And I wondered why.

But I get it now. This is a despedida, a sendoff. This is how your sister says she loves you when she can't drive on I-94 herself, and, even if she could, she would be too distracted by the jingling of shackles to tell you she'll miss you.

So she bought soap, toothpaste, jeans.

She's trying to tell you that you can hold your head up high when you go back home. That you can walk into your campo from the main road clean and fly as hell with no shame cause you had ridden La Bestia. You had crossed the Rio Grande. You worked. You put more shingles on roofs than any citizen would ever think possible. You did what you had to do, got it done, and paid the 5% to Western Union to get it back to your family without complaint. She's telling you: Be proud. You are loved. You are a warrior.

I drop off the maleta at immigration and go home.

A week later I get a call. Can I come pick up the bag?

The maleta never made it on your plane. The ICE agent was very nice when he informed me. Asked how my day was, smiled. But isn't that how it works? You meet a nice cop, a nice agent, a neighbor who works for the force and brings your kid ice cream, and suddenly you care that Laquan McDonald had a teenage mom and suddenly All Lives Matter.

So the maleta sat in the immigration office as your plane took off.

Your sister tells me that you were so dirty when you got to the entry to your barrio that the cab driver didn't want to pick you up. I'm sorry. There was toothpaste in there for you. And brand new jeans. I'm sorry.

So I keep your luggage tag with me. I keep it in my bag. I can't seem to throw it away, even though I took the maleta back to your sister already. Even though I had to interrupt her child's birthday to give her back the maleta from his deported uncle. Even though immigration has long stopped giving a fuck about your suitcase.

It’s irrelevant now. Just like that original Ignacio on the warrant.

But I can't seem to stop giving a fuck about your suitcase or those of all the other Ignacio look-alikes out there.

 

 Photo credits: Celena Lopez

Photo credits: Celena Lopez

Take Action: I worked closely with the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights to gather data for my dissertation research and continue to collaborate with them whenever possible. I support the Washtenaw ID Project, the first government issued ID in the Midwest, in their efforts to bring photo-identification to everyone in the county. Increasingly, immigration status, for which lack of ID is often used as a proxy, is used to restrict resources access to immigrant communities. The Washtenaw ID is one way to disrupt these inequitable systems of resource distribution, as discussed in my recent article in Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. I invite you to support our efforts.

 

William Lopez is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the National Center for Institutional Diversity and School of Social work at the University of Michigan. He is the son of a Mexican immigrant mother and Texan father. He grew up in San Antonio, TX, before acclimating to the Midwest in Indiana, where he received his BA in psychology at the University of Notre Dame. William returned to Texas to receive his MPH at the University of Texas Health Science Center Houston while working at a homeless services center and getting his first taste of qualitative work in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. His mixed-methods work focuses on the effects of immigration policy on local Latino communities, specifically considering the health effects of immigration home raids. William’s work has been featured in Pacific Standard, The Conversation, and Nature.