It was a long time ago. It was late 1971 or early 1972. The place was Pico Rivera. We were visiting a small, almost worn-out, trailer park in an urban area located within a block of a large, multistory factory building.
There may have been between 100-200 residents living in the park including a few women and children. I didn’t hear anyone speaking English. I found out that the factory down the street employed most of the residents. After we spoke to a few people we managed to set up some appointments for Friday evening to discuss the reason for our visits.
On Friday evening, when we returned to the trailer park, we found it nearly deserted. The people, with whom we had appointments, no longer lived there. We saw maybe half a dozen people still living at the trailer park. We ran into a guy who worked for the trailer park. We asked him why the park was deserted? He told us that Immigration had raided the park Friday early in the morning. When they came, they rounded up everyone who was at home at the time. Then he told us that he thought that Immigration must have received a tip. His opinion was that the tip must have come from management at the factory.
I couldn’t understand why that would happen. I asked him how the factory owners would benefit from having their employees deported? He pointed out that the raid took place on Friday morning. Friday was payday at the factory. That meant free labor for the factory for that pay period. Now, I don’t know what really happened. I don’t know if the company tipped off Immigration or if anyone else did either. Nevertheless, I was confused and troubled by the whole event.
I kept thinking about it. The residents weren’t in hiding. If they could be considered to be, they were hiding in plain sight. These people were living right out in the open and they had been for a long time. Why did Immigration come? Why did they choose that day to make the raid on the trailer park? I kept thinking about the the factory.
Was there a connection between the factory and the raid? Was it simply a coincidence? The events at the trailer park touched me very deeply. I saw how easily people could be uprooted and their lives disrupted. I began to question the purpose of Immigration. I knew that they were a government agency. The question, then, became what they did and who did they really work for? Apart from the laws that authorize their activities, what motivated them to make the decisions that they made?
I was puzzled by the immigrants too. What made the risks worthwhile? They knew that they could be deported at any time. Why did they put themselves through these risks, the anxiety and trauma? I concluded that they had to see a reward in what they were doing that far outweighed the difficulties.
This was my first experience of many.