For the 71,000 undocumented residents in Gwinett county, Georgia, roundups, raids and fear are a part of everyday life
At 6.10am on a freezing, dark January morning, just moments before he opened Superior Tools & Equipment, Gustavo Ramirez caught a flash of blue light racing towards his shop. Shoppers were lining up outside his Norcross, Georgia, store to pick up nails, ladders and pieces of wood before a day of hard labor. He peered outside, expecting a police car to whiz by the strip mall. Instead, the car stoppedin front of the store entrance and Ramirez whipped out his cellphone camera. He knew who it was: Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Get back, sir! Get back. All right? an Ice agent yelled at Ramirez. In cellphone footage he shot, Ramirez yelled in Spanish to someone who was being searched, telling her, Dont get out, hey, dont get out [of the car].
Ramirez had been undocumented for the first 14 years of his life in the United States and he intimately understood the fear spreading through those being detained in front of his eyes.
In this part of Americas deep south, he is far from alone in being afraid of Ice. Gwinnett county, just north of Atlanta, where Norcross is located, has an estimated 71,000 undocumented residents, nearly 8% of the countys population.
Norcrosss streets are filled with store fronts with names in Spanish, Vietnamese and Korean. A Salvadoran panaderia sits across from a Halal meat grocers. A law office advertises an attorney-at-law in English and then below in two other languages: lut s/abogado it reads.
According to a 2018 Migration Policy Institute report, the county is ranked fifth of 25 highest detainers by counties nationwide. To be an undocumented immigrant in Gwinnett county is to be part of a community living in fear as a national crackdown on immigration rolls out across America and roundups and raids become a part of every day life.
It is a situation made worse by the fierce immigration debate coursing through Georgias local politics where the Republican party has sought to adopt ever more extreme positions on undocumented immigrants. Earlier this year, one GOP gubernatorial hopeful, Michael Williams, launched a Deportation Bus tour of the state and daubed fill this bus with illegals on the side of the vehicle.
Williams lost his primary. But the winner, Brian Kemp, is campaigning on a Track and Deport Plan. In one of Kemps own campaign ads he said: I got a big truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take em home myself.
Ramirez said Kemps rhetoric doesnt scare him any more than President Trumps. After all, how much worse can it get, he asked. Many of his friends, clients and community are too afraid to even drive in Norcross any more. You get stopped, asked for your license, detained and sent to prison.
Gwinnett county entered into the 287 (g) program one of six in the state which allows the Department of Homeland Security to deputize the countys sheriffs office to perform the functions of federal immigration agents.