Not too long ago, I read of a real time tragedy when a family was wrenched apart without much feelings for the consequences. A long-term Michigan resident of Mexican descent was deported from Detroit in the United States to Mexico, a move that many of his supporters say was another example of immigrants being unfairly targeted under the administration of US President Donald Trump.
After 30 years of living in the US and working as a reliable and trust-worthy landscaper, the 39-year-old Jorge Garcia’s eyes were filling up with tears as his wife cried uncontrollably while his 15-year-old daughter sobbed into her father’s shoulder as they hugged for one last time near the entrance to the airport security gate at Detroit Metro Airport.
Prior to his forced departure, Garcia had told reporters: “I feel kind of sad. I got to leave my family behind, knowing that they’re probably going to have a hard time adjusting. Me not being there for them for who knows how long. It’s just hard.”
Especially painful will be the separation from his children, Soleil and Jorge Garcia Jr. The Garcias said their 12-year-old son had been taking the news hard, not expressing himself, which is concerning his parents. His wife said that their children — 12-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter — were devastated. “It’s a nightmare, they’re sad, they’re depressed, they don’t really comprehend everything that’s going on, all they know is their dad is gone and they don’t know when they’re going to see him again.”
Jorge added, “It’s going to be kind of hard for me to adjust, too. Not being there with them, helping the kids with school stuff. But it’s something, I guess I got to find a way to adjust.”
Garcia came to the US with an undocumented family member when he was nine years old. Today he has a wife and two children, all of whom are US citizens. He’s been trying for years to find a way to live legally in the US, spending all their money in legal fees. Garcia was ordered in November to return to Mexico. He has no criminal record, not even a traffic ticket and dutifully paid his taxes every year.
Reading his story was painful and kept me up late into the night. Where has humanity disappeared? A man who had shown all traits of a good citizen, and who had demonstrated that diligently for 30 years, was made to pay the price for possessing the wrong passport!
But are such cases unusual elsewhere? In an age of nationalism, many expatriates all over the world are unsure of their status. It can happen in any country overnight when rules are changed and long-term expatriates suddenly lose that aura of security as their presence gets increasingly targeted by the nationals and highlighted in an unforgiving media.
An Asian living in Saudi Arabia tells me: “It’s terribly sad to watch the way non-Saudis are being treated. And as a ‘non-Saudi’ who was born in Riyadh, studied and lived here my entire life and call this place home, I must say it hurts. It’s sad to see Europeans opening their arms for immigrants. It’s not a secret to anyone that in the kind of testing times that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia finds itself, I just wish that more friendliness was shown towards expats. I pray that Allah guides us to do what’s right and righteous for everyone. Saudis are affected too of course. In the end, we all want the same thing — live here and be able to enjoy a chicken kabsah with some peace of mind.”
Having been often attacked by nationals as too sympathetic to the cause of expatriates, I have to wonder where all this is leading us to. Understandably, the nationals need jobs, some of which are held by expatriates, but with the money many of the affluent expatriates are willing to invest, it should open the doors for more jobs for Saudis and everyone else.
As the national populations increase across the Gulf, governments should take into account the long-term services of hardworking expatriates, many of whom were instrumental in the progress of the lands they resided in and ensure their sense of security is left unchallenged. There are many children belonging to Asian families who have been born and raised in the Gulf and know of no other place to call home. With no emotional connection to the homeland of their forefathers, I cannot imagine how difficult a transition it will be if they have to return one day. It can be an avoidable tragedy.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. You can follow him on Twitter: @talmaeena.