October 10th, 2017.
A quiet New York street, an anomaly. Now, everything is loud, a roar, a ringing in our ears – a collective hurt caused by our ignorance and naivety.
Everyone has stopped to stare at the cordons on the sidewalk pulled round the large black and white trucks parked outside the side door of the restaurant. The trucks and its drivers have been labelled the ‘collectors’, who go from business to business to siphon illegal immigrants from their workplace – incapacitated and completely defenceless. Today they’ve arrived in Tribeca and on their list is the restaurant I’ve worked at the past year. I know inside are fifteen people – men and women who have lived in the city longer than I, and are integrated into its culture, that will leave the restaurant for the last time today and dare not ever return for fear of the unambiguous consequences…
‘If you return after deportation – we will lock you in prison for the rest of your lives. Period.’ he said earlier this year. Before the election it was mumbles of 1 year terms, grumbles of five year repeat-offender sentences, but never a whisper of life. Then again, there was never a whisper of what would happen after, now it’s a roar – a constant, deafening roar. How deaf we were this time last year…
This group – part of the fabric of this rambunctious kitchen – are currently being rounded up inside, I can hear the protestations of my manager and the executive chef, pleading with the men in all-black, baseball caps atop their heads, vehemently looking down at the ground, no pause to look at their victims in the eye. There’s an air of thuggery about them – some slouching beside the idle escort vehicles, the others inside, rounding up the prisoners.
The capped men don’t reply to the pleading or the questions, directing their words only to the prisoners, succinctly, threatening – ‘you are in violation of the United States Presidential Executive Order demanding the removal of all illegal citizens from the country. Today we have come to deport you back to Mexico, where you will be placed at the behest of their judicial procedures. Come quickly and quietly. We will not tolerate any objections, and will react accordingly if any of you try to escape. You are now in the custody of the American government.’
With that, the voice of the group emerged from the side door and muttered instructions to the black truck driver before stomping back inside – his thick black boots heavy crossing from tile to pavement, a distinctive thud.
One by one they trundle out of the side door, spilling onto the street, a spectacle for the onlookers. Still in their uniforms – white jackets, hairnets, they look down at the ground, not wanting to meet the eyes of those that stare, including myself. There’s a shame about them, and a shame about us. We watch as they are on the verge of having their identity removed, stunned into silence but unable to move. This will be one of the worst moments of their lives and we stare, bewitched almost, by the absurdity of it all.
Joe, one of our line cooks, is shoved by his captor. Anger simmers under his sombre facade and he shouts back over his shoulder ‘I can walk, ASSHOLE.’ The silence broken, and a collective gasp from the crowd, follows a quick scuffle. A stun-gun is produced by one of the capped men, and in what seems like a split-second, Joe is writhing on the ground in pain, thousands of volts bating their way through his body. The others suffer in silence, incapacitated and unable to help their friend, hands bound behind their back in a single plastic loop.
Blood curdles around his nose from the fall, and a dark circle has formed on his forehead. Loaded on to the van in a militaristic formation, my now former co-workers disappear into obsoletion and I know I’ll never see them again. Joe is the last to be loaded on to the truck, half carried, half pushed, slumping from the pain. As the last van departs the crowd begins to disperse, back to their jobs and homes while the cordons are removed – back to normality.