Undocumented immigrants are surviving tougher immigration laws implemented in Georgia and other southern states by utilizing a surprising tool: social media. It has become an instrument to help them navigate the streets and remain undetected by police.
Mario Sevilla, 24, is a construction worker; his day begins at 5 a.m. His five brothers and sisters live in Sonora, Mexico, and they all rely on the money that he can earn and wire back home. Lately, Sevilla has used social media to risk-taking road trips as far away as Tennessee to get to work.
“The first thing that I do in the morning is to turn on my cell phone and send out a message to my friends through Facebook. Those who are here legally and have a driver’s license are my informants about police presence in different areas so that I can avoid “retenes” to get to work,” explains Sevilla.
“Retenes” or police checkpoints have increased twofold in heavily Latino populated counties since local officials were given immigration enforcement powers in 2006. Gwinnett and Cobb Counties in Georgia are two of the busiest in the nation for deportations.
¨They can stop you just because you look Latino and that would be the end since we cannot apply for driver licenses anymore,” explains Sevilla.
VOXXI interviewed a police officer from Gwinnett County who asked to remain anonymous.
“We do not profile. We just target people for moving violations. We have the right to ask for identifications and legal status now,” the officer pointed out.
Mercedes Cruz, 28, works as a dishwasher in the kitchen of a local Atlanta Mexican restaurant chain. Her best friend was deported two years ago because “the police stopped her without being involved in a moving violation. It was just because she looked Latina,” says Cruz.
“Twitter has saved my life. The messages are short and we have our own codes or words that only we know how to decipher. It is the only way to do it. You have to do what you have to do to survive,” she adds. Cruz also explains that on weekends she prefers to ride a bike to run her errands so she can avoid stressing out over “retenes”.
“It feels as if we are living under house arrest,” she adds.
Both Cruz and Sevilla would be eligible to apply for the Deferred Action Immigration program but they both expressed fear to do so. They would rather wait for the outcome of the November presidential elections.
“I am afraid about giving away too much information about other family members and then if Romney wins they could be deported in a jiffy,” says Cruz.
Undocumented immigrant workers turn to social media
For now, their Facebook and Twitter friends and followers have proven to be thus far the only reliable source to avoid being arrested and deported.
“Imagine, what would we do without our cell phones and social media?” says Sevilla. “If it can topple governments and aid the narcos why can it not help us to remain here and to be able to earn a living?” he adds.
Listed below are the top 10 states by deportations connected to the Secure Communities program. This graphic also shows when counties in those states started participating in the program and when the system was operating in all counties in those states.