Immigration Callout
What 'go back home' really feels like
02:28 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

A family is skittish about speaking Spanish at the supermarket. A mother is afraid to let her daughter play outside. A father worries his toddler is now a target.

CNN recently asked immigrants how they feel about President Trump’s racist remarks, the fight to add a citizenship question to the US Census and the threat of ICE raids. Many of their responses share a common thread.

Immigrant parents, many of whom are living legally in the United States, opened up about their fears. They say they’re growing increasingly worried about their US citizen children’s futures and aren’t sure how to protect them.

Some say Trump’s highly publicized immigration crackdowns and his comments demonizing immigrants and their families have heightened anxieties that were already haunting them. Others say they’re now grappling with a new reality they don’t know how to face.

Here are some of their stories.

He’s worried a school shooter could target his youngest daughter. She’s 2

Jorge Chepote with his family -- wife Karinna and daughters Sofía and Adriana -- in Missouri in winter 2018. Chepote says recent racism in the United States makes him fear for his youngest daughter's safety in school.

Jorge Chepote knows he’s going to have to prepare his 2-year-old daughter for a world that’s harsher than she realizes. He’s not sure he knows how.

Right now, she goes to a St. Louis daycare where many international families send their children. But she’ll have to switch schools in a few years, and the 49-year-old business executive is worried that once she’s in a less diverse environment she’ll be bullied for coming from an immigrant family.

Or even worse, that a school shooter could put her in his crosshairs.

“We have Muslims targeted, we have African Americans targeted, we have seen Jews targeted. Now I see that any type of immigrant is going to become more of a target. I don’t think Trump necessarily is supporting that stuff, but it’s the environment he’s creating, and to an extent, the unintended consequences of the environment he has created,” Chepote says. “I have talked with my wife. What should we do about that? Should we revisit public schools? Consider home schooling or something? That is something that we do worry about.”

Chepote says his job brought him to the United States from Peru 13 years ago. He’s proud to be a US citizen. But he says since the 2016 election, the country he loves has changed and he feels he must speak out to help his children before it’s too late. Many immigrants like him, he says, hear ominous echoes in President Trump’s words.

“In the country where I come from there’s also been racism like this in the past. It’s like a virus. It’s like wildfire,” he says. “Once it starts, it’s very difficult to stop it. … We still have a chance.”

She fears someone will call the police on her family while they’re shopping

An 11-year-old walked into her mother’s bedroom last week with a question.

“Did you see people that look like me are being separated and put in jail?” she asked.

So the 39-year-old mother – who was born in the Dominican Republic, immigrated to the United States 30 years ago and became a naturalized US citizen when she was serving in the US military – had a heartbreaking conversation with her daughter. She described it to CNN but asked to remain anonymous because she’s a government contractor and fears she could lose her job for speaking out.

The mother, who lives in New Jersey, says she went through details with her daughter about the situation at the border, Trump’s racist tweets, ICE raids and the citizenship question on the census.

“She was very upset. My kids speak Spanish. They travel to the Dominican Republic. They know this is not right. I make sure they go to the library, read a lot of history books. They studied the Holocaust,” she tells CNN.

It wasn’t the first time this mother faced such issues with her children.

A year ago, she confronted a parent whose son had told another daughter she was going to get deported.

“I told him, ‘Your son is bullying my daughter … My daughter isn’t going anywhere, she’s as American as your son.’”

Since Trump was elected, the mother says she doesn’t feel safe for her kids anymore.

“We have a 14-year-old son that is brown-skinned, although my husband is Italian American. My husband and I do not feel safe letting our son ride a bike alone in our neighborhood, in case someone wants to call the cops on him. So we are hyper vigilant,” she says. “When my kids are riding their bicycles where I can’t see them, in case the cops stop them, I tell ‘say your name and address, and say you want your parents because you’re minors. Don’t answer any question.’ I make them repeat that every day, every time they go out.”

Before Trump took office, she says she didn’t see this much hostility.

Back then, she says, she could be at the supermarket and not fear about someone calling the cops on her family.

Now, when she goes to a store or a restaurant with her family, she brings three or four types of identification, she says. “ICE tried to deport a veteran that is Hispanic and who has an American passport,” she says. “The same could happen to me.”

A classmate once told her kids to ‘go back’ to where they came from

Tania Bravo Groe, 48, with daughter Alessandra Groe, 18, a student at Iowa State University, and son Anthony Groe, 16, who is in high school.

Tania Bravo Groe couldn’t believe her ears when her kids told her what someone said to them at school: “Go back to where you crossed the river.”

That was in 2015, and the Peruvian-born woman, a naturalized American citizen, had recently moved with her husband, a retired US army officer, to his hometown of Lake Mills, Iowa.

“Obviously I got angry, because my husband is a retired US Army officer and for that reason we’d moved a few times during his active-duty military career and NEVER in all the places we lived (did my kids get) attacked in that way. Never,” Bravo Groe tells CNN. “Since that happened, I always ask them, ‘Let me know if it happens again, I’ll talk to the school, the principal.’”

At the time, she didn’t take any action, or try to talk to the kid’s parents. But the episode left a scar that’s difficult to heal. Despite having been in the States for almost 21 years, Bravo Groe says she’s never felt as insecure as now, both for herself and for her children: Alessandra Groe, 18, a student at Iowa State University, and Anthony Groe, 16, still in high school.

“As a precaution, I carry in my wallet the photocopy of my US passport in case I get stopped. I never used to do that, but you never know, you might be stopped for racial profiling,” she says.

When she talks to her daughter, Bravo Groe warns her and her friends to carry a copy of their passports. They might encounter people “who are coming out of the closet now with their hate and racism,” she says.

Her kids speak Spanish to each other. They’re fluent. She speaks to them in Spanish, too. But now, after Trump’s racist tweets, Bravo Groe believes things are spinning out of control:

“I’m really concerned about the news. I need to remind my kids that what happened to them back in 2015, the president is now saying the same things in public,” she says. “If the president thinks that a congresswoman needs to go back, can you imagine all the people that voted for him? Do I need to go back because I’m the same as that congresswoman, a naturalized citizen?”

Bravo Groe says she’s concerned about speaking Spanish to her kids in the supermarket. “Sometimes I feel I shouldn’t. I don’t wanna be yelled at, ‘speak English, we’re in America,’” she says. “I’m scared my kids are gonna get bullied if they speak Spanish in school.”

She wishes she could take her daughter to Disney. Instead, she takes her to work

The 4-year-old girl talks about princesses all the time. She wants to meet Mickey Mouse and Jasmine from “Aladdin.” But her mother, a 25-year-old undocumented Jamaican immigrant in New York City, says she knows traveling to Disney World would be too risky.

Most days, she thinks even playing outside with her toddler is too dangerous. Afraid of the possibility of immigration raids, the housekeeper and receptionist said she’s started bringing her daughter to work more often to protect her. Living as an undocumented immigrant in the United States, she says, feels like living in a horror movie.

“The word ‘ICE’ in our community just sends us all into panic,” she says. “I’m not able to do normal outdoor activities with my daughter, such as playing in the park, going to the library, even going for her doctor’s visit, because of the fear I have of it being my last day with her in America.”

The woman shared her story with CNN but asked to remain anonymous, afraid that publishing her name could make her a target of immigration authorities and leave her child without a mother to care for her.

She says her parents brought her to the United States when she was 17, fleeing from violence in Jamaica after her brother was kidnapped. Their house there has burned down. Now, she says, America is the only home they have.

It is a place where she’s learned to survive, and the place where her 4-year-old daughter was born. But it’s also a place where daily life fills her with dread. She says Trump’s recent comments telling four congresswomen to “go back to where they came from” were a reminder that someday she will need to help her daughter deal with racism, too.

But right now she’s facing something more pressing: a day she fears will inevitably come.

“I tried to make preparations for her just in case I’m not here, to leave enough money,” she says. “I don’t know what would happen to her.”

She fears someone will strip away her kids’ citizenship

Katalina Thomas, 34, smiles for a selfie on vacation with her family: 1-year-old Arlow Cobo Thomas, 38-year-old Mariano Cobo and 5-year-old Bryna Cobo Thomas. Thomas says the Trump administration's policies have made her feel unwelcome in her home country.

Katalina Thomas was shaken by a sinking feeling at a moment when she should have been thrilled. Her aunt had surprised her with plane tickets for a family reunion. But Thomas says she was scared to go.

The United States, where she was born but her kids were not, seemed to be transforming into someplace unrecognizable – a place where she was worried about her children’s safety and afraid to speak Spanish in public.

Thomas is from Texas. She’s the daughter of a Cuban refugee. Her husband and two children were born in Spain, where their family now lives. Her children are US citizens, but Thomas worries that’s something the US government could try to strip away, even though the administration hasn’t proposed such a move.

“I want them to have the opportunity to do everything they want in the world. There are these stories about people getting deported to countries that they don’t remember and don’t speak the language of. At the moment, they don’t seem to be arbitrarily ripping citizenship from people, but there have been some court decisions,” she says. “Your citizenship shouldn’t be able to be taken away. … It’s concerning that those kinds of policies can change.”

Thomas says she didn’t sleep at all the night before they flew to the United States for the family reunion. She stayed up, pulling together all their documents in case US border authorities gave them any trouble.

“I didn’t want to not have something that we needed, to prove that we were a family, to prove that we were citizens. … It made me question my identity a lot,” she says. “It’s somewhere that I don’t feel like my family’s welcome. The simple act of going back for a family reunion to visit my family, to spend Christmas and things, was something I was dreading because I didn’t know what could happen.”

She’s trying to protect her kids by hiding her fears

A mother in New York says she worries constantly about a question she doesn’t know how to answer: What am I going to do?

Since an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, the 41-year-old security guard has been living legally in the United States, protected from deportation by a government policy the Trump administration has been trying to end.

So far, a federal court has temporarily blocked that move, but she worries any day it could end and her children – a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old who were both born in the United States – could lose the only life they’ve known. She shared her family’s story with CNN but asked to remain anonymous because she fears speaking out could affect her immigration status.

It’s impossible for her to imagine her children being forced to live a life in a country where they don’t even speak the language. The thought of having to leave them behind is even tougher. She hasn’t told them about the fear that’s taken hold of her life since Trump became president.

“I don’t want them to be really scared or think one time their mom’s not going to be here anymore,” she says.

She says Trump’s recent comments have made her worry more than ever that her family is at risk.

“Thinking about this every day is really disturbing…this is the lowest I’ve ever been before,” she says. “I’ve been in this country. I used to hear it from other people, but not from someone who was in power, who’s supposed to teach people about diversity, including everybody … It’s just barbaric when you hear those things.”