No Corner is Illegal

by Carmen Mendoza-King

From my front porch, I can see the corner—a corner from which the movement of my neighborhood resonates. Jaywalked daily, the corner is between two crosswalks that feel far from the panaderia or Mexican ranchera import store that blares corridos norteños on hot days. On the corner a man leans against a cart, selling elotes & fruit; on holidays, pre-bundled roses and carnations are sold next to the bus stop.

White cars with “Homeland Security” in green swim through my neighborhood like sharks; sometimes stationed in grocery store parking lots, their presence implies an act of occupation. These cars often venture past the areas surrounding the U.S.-Canada border and further into Southwest Detroit neighborhoods.

In April, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials targeted undocumented parents at a Southwest Detroit school. Children getting dropped off at Hope of Detroit Academy watched their parents get harassed and arrested by ICE. After the community held a rally to speak out against the intervention, ICE claimed the agents at the raid may have “gone too far.”

Anxieties ripple beyond my corner to all corners of Southwest Detroit, which sits along a bustling international border in a hyper-nationalistic post 9/11 climate.

Last year helicopters swarmed the skies during a week that merged both Cinco de Mayo and May 1 marches. The police department’s “riot control” division set up a watchtower on the corner of W. Vernor and Clark. This year police reaffirmed their presence throughout the Cinco de Mayo parade weekend. Instead of the march being held the weekend following May 5, as has typically been done in the past, the march was scheduled for May 1. On my corner, fewer people than last year stood watching the parade.

The increased presence of law enforcement authorities, combined with the absence of a May Day march, reflected the fear caused by April’s ICE raids and increased Homeland Security patrols. The parade was strategically scheduled for May 1 in order to dampen week-long celebrations and the five-year-strong May Day march that has affirmed immigrants’ dignity and rights.

Visiting the borderlands in 2004, the wall dividing Nogales, Mexico from Nogales, Arizona reminded me that I too live on a border. The wall and barbed wire here are invisible; Homeland Security though also present, doesn’t appear as menacing until another story of a raid on workers or families emerges.

A community belongs to those who make it what it is, regardless of “legal” status. What happens to a community when it is under surveillance, and some, or many, fear they will be denied the right to stay in a place they have shaped and sustained?

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