Gabriel. 29 years old. Gay. Undocumented.
Living in the United States was never Gabriel’s plan. He wanted to work there temporarily, make a little money and then return to Nicaragua. In Managua he had worked as a business manager and customer service agent at a call center, but in the United States he’s had to do a little of everything: construction, hotel reception, cleaning, etc. He felt that the immigrants’ hopes during the past presidential elections were in a victory for Hillary Clinton.
The first time he traveled was in 2013. He managed to get a tourist visa, and on that occasion he was only in the country for two months, staying with friends in Miami. Gabriel – his name has been changed to protect his identity – returned to the US in 2015, this time to New Orleans to work in construction with his brother. There he met Jason, the man who would later become his husband.
“I met him and we began to go out. He didn’t speak any Spanish, but we got along very well. In 2016, I left for Nicaragua for some months and we stayed in contact. When I returned in August of that year, we continued dating. Then the elections came,” Gabriel related.
The United States became involved in an unprecedented electoral campaign, embroiled in controversy. The two candidates – Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump – unleashed a dirty war of attacks and confrontations. The media and the social networks were smoking, while the public was divided between one and the other side.
All of the polls predicted that Clinton would be the winner, and many saw Trump as “a buffoon,” as Gabriel put it. No one believed what was actually going to happen, that the “buffoon” would become president of the United States.
“All of us who were immigrants harbored the hope that Hillary would win. When she didn’t, the people in the streets were horror-stricken. All day long, everyone was talking about how afraid they were: people thought that things were going to get ugly. I was ready to go back to Nicaragua, but a little while afterwards Jason asked me if we could get married so that I wouldn’t have to leave,” the Nicaraguan told us.
In the United States, marriage between people of the same sex was legalized in all states on June 26, 2015, through a sentence of the Supreme Court that required all of the states to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples under the 14th amendment to the Constitution.
Gay marriage is also recognized by Homeland Security, the federal immigration agency. If the relationship is “in good faith and not for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits”, the undocumented spouse of a gay citizen can obtain permanent legal residency according to the current procedures.
Jason and Gabriel were married on January 28, 2017. They subsequently moved to Madisonville, Louisiana, some two hours from New Orleans, and worked in a hotel there. According to Gabriel, there aren’t many Latinos in the area. Nevertheless, fear of the immigration raids on the part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is very strong.
“I’m in undocumented status, even though I’m now married. They’ve asked us for so much paperwork. We’re waiting for the last documents in order to begin the proceedings. But the truth is that the fear is always with me in the same way. At times I sit down in the dining room and look out the window to make sure that ICE isn’t there on my street. One has a lot of paranoia,” Gabriel explained.
The ICE raids have been the object of huge controversies. Patrols of immigration authorities walk down the streets, stalking workplaces, malls and other places where the Latino community regularly gather. They’ve unleashed a witch hunt against the undocumented. However, the community in turn has found ways to defend its members.
As Gabriel explains it, in addition to the work of organizations that offer legal support to the undocumented immigrants, the social networks and communications mechanisms have been used to protect each other.
“Latinos communicate with each other via messages on the “WhatsApp” phone application, advising that the squads are in such and such a street, or that in such and such a place immigration is stopping people to ask for papers – don’t go by there. They tell you, for example, not to go to Walmart, because ICE is going to be there. For us, Walmart is the most economical supermarket and we Latinos go there, but as a result of all this we’ve changed a lot of traditions,” Gabriel noted.