The Trump dis­ci­ple vs. the ‘il­le­gals’

A cit­i­zen sees a sys­tem rigged against her in fa­vor of her un­doc­u­mented neigh­bors

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARY JOR­DAN AND KEVIN SUL­LI­VAN IN VAL­LEY VIEW, TEX.

At 4:30 a.m. on a windy Monday, Ta­mara Estes swal­lows vi­ta­min B12 for en­ergy and krill oil for her arthritic fin­gers. Even with her nightly Am­bien, she is al­ways up be­fore the sun, get­ting ready for a job that re­minds her of what in­fu­ri­ates her about Amer­ica.

She drives a school bus on a route that winds through a North Texas neigh­bor­hood filled with un­doc­u­mented Mex­i­cans. She picks up nearly 100 of their chil­dren and drops them off at pub­lic schools funded by Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers. By her.

One im­mi­grant fam­ily lives in the house next door, and in the dark hours be­fore dawn, they are also stir­ring. As the father leaves for his job at a con­struc­tion site, the mother is scram­bling eggs and scoop­ing them into warm tor­tillas.

They have been work­ing in Amer­ica for two decades with­out le­gal sta­tus, but their four

chil­dren were born here, so they are U.S. cit­i­zens — or, as Estes and Pres­i­dent Trump call them, “an­chor ba­bies.”

The el­dest, Rainier Cor­ral, 15, emerges from his bed­room car­ry­ing a book bag and a trum­pet case. He’s a 188-pound rock of a kid who plays line­man on the high school foot­ball team, a top­notch stu­dent who wants to study me­chan­i­cal engi­neer­ing at Texas A&M.

Rainier’s fam­ily has al­ways be­lieved in the promise of Amer­ica, where they saved enough to buy their own home and their kids go to good schools. But now that Trump is threat­en­ing to de­port mil­lions — and even change the law that gave their chil­dren U.S. cit­i­zen­ship — they are filled with fear.

Estes, mean­while, is filled with new hope. For years, she has felt she was liv­ing the Amer­i­can Dream in re­verse, her life slid­ing back­ward, in part, she be­lieves, be­cause il­le­gal im­mi­grants take good jobs and drive up her taxes. Now she thinks her life will im­prove be­cause Trump is promis­ing to “take our coun­try back.”

This is what di­vides them at the dawn of the Trump era: for the pres­i­dent to keep his promise to mil­lions of work­ing-class white vot­ers like Estes, he is threat­en­ing mil­lions of work­ing­class im­mi­grants like the fam­ily next door.

‘An­chor ba­bies’

It’s 20 miles to the school-bus de­pot and, as Estes drives, she flips on con­ser­va­tive talk ra­dio, where she gets most of her news. She tunes to 660 AM and Mark Davis, a pop­u­lar Texas talker, who is prais­ing Trump, trash­ing lib­er­als and mak­ing Estes nos­tal­gic for bet­ter days.

“I wish we could go back to a time when we could live, not just ex­ist, when ev­ery­thing wasn’t a strug­gle,” she says.

Estes is 59, di­vorced and earns $24,000 a year. With four days left to pay­day, she has $118.72 in her check­ing ac­count.

She earns a bit too much to qual­ify for most gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance but too lit­tle to buy health in­sur­ance, with its high monthly pre­mi­ums and im­pos­si­ble de­ductibles.

When she broke her arm last year, she wrapped it in a $15 drug­store brace and popped ibupro­fen for a month.

The way she sees it, life is eas­ier for il­le­gal Mex­i­can im­mi­grants than for tax­pay­ing, work­ing-class white Amer­i­cans. As her life has got­ten harder, she be­lieves the for­tunes of “il­le­gals” have been ris­ing, and that she’s pay­ing for it. Lit­tle galls her more than “an­chor ba­bies,” who are en­ti­tled to gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing Med­i­caid, pub­lic schools and food as­sis­tance.

Estes re­sents pay­ing for their safety net when she feels she has none.

“I can’t seem to pull my sta­tus back up where it was 20 years ago,” she says. “Some of it’s my fault. Some of it’s not.”

The United States has been grant­ing “birthright cit­i­zen­ship” to ba­bies born on its soil, re­gard­less of their par­ents’ le­gal sta­tus, since just af­ter the Civil War. Congress and the states adopted the 14th Amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion in 1868, pri­mar­ily to guar­an­tee cit­i­zen­ship to freed slaves.

Over the past three decades, ev­ery other de­vel­oped econ­omy in the world ex­cept Canada has aban­doned or re­stricted birthright cit­i­zen­ship amid ris­ing flows of im­mi­grants and refugees. But in Amer­ica, it re­mains com­mon­place. In 2014, 7 per­cent of all U.S. births — about 275,000 ba­bies — were to par­ents il­le­gally in the United States, ac­cord­ing to the non­par­ti­san Pew Re­search Cen­ter.

In Texas, un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants ac­counted for a quar­ter of all de­liv­er­ies paid for by Med­i­caid in 2015 — more than 54,000 ba­bies — ac­cord­ing to the Texas Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mis­sion. The cost to tax­pay­ers: $116 mil­lion.

De­fend­ers of birthright cit­i­zen­ship say in­te­grat­ing im­mi­grants is part of what makes the United States ex­cep­tional, and deny­ing th­ese ba­bies cit­i­zen­ship would cre­ate a huge new un­der­class of peo­ple liv­ing out­side the law. Crit­ics say it en­cour­ages il­le­gal immigration and drains pub­lic re­sources.

Estes was de­lighted when Trump at­tacked birthright cit­i­zen­ship dur­ing the cam­paign, say­ing: “A woman gets preg­nant. She’s nine months, she walks across the bor­der, she has the baby in the United States, and we take care of the baby for 85 years. I don’t think so.”

Polls show that the vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans op­pose mass de­por­ta­tions, but Trump’s core sup­port­ers are solidly for it: Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent CNN/Kaiser poll, 55 per­cent of whites with­out col­lege de­grees said they want ev­ery­one liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally to be de­ported.

Ev­ery­where Estes looks, she’s re­minded that her coun­try is changing.

White en­roll­ment in Texas schools re­cently dipped below 30 per­cent. His­pan­ics are the new ma­jor­ity; Pew es­ti­mates that more than 13 per­cent of Texas stu­dents are the chil­dren of un­doc­u­mented par­ents.

Estes wants a bet­ter-pay­ing job but says it’s hard to get one th­ese days if you speak only English. In­creas­ingly, the first ques­tion in any job in­ter­view is, “Habla es­pañol?”

So when Trump started talking about de­port­ing il­le­gal im that mi­grants who “com­pete di­rectly against vul­ner­a­ble Amer­i­can work­ers,” Estes went to his ral­lies and stuck a Trump sign on her lawn. She has come to be known as the “Trump Lady” on her school bus, which on this Monday morn­ing ap­proaches its first rider, a tiny kinder­gart­ner bun­dled in a gray parka and wear­ing a pur­ple back­pack.

“Love you!” the lit­tle girl says in English to her Span­ish-speak­ing mother.

For two hours, Estes picks up dozens of chil­dren. They chat­ter in the seats be­hind her in Span­ish, a lan­guage she doesn’t un­der­stand. She boils in­side about her tax dol­lars pay­ing for their ed­u­ca­tion. But she likes the kids, and she can’t af­ford to lose this job. So she smiles and says, over and over: “Care­ful on the stairs.” “Have a good day, y’all.”

Cost and con­tri­bu­tion

As Estes heads to work, Rainier is in the kitchen next door, check­ing his phone for news.

“Quieres café?” his mother, Azu­cena Reyes, 34, asks him, as she stirs eggs on the stove.

“No, thanks,” he says in English, wav­ing off cof­fee to check the Young Turks news site on YouTube, where to­day’s head­line is: “Trump’s De­por­ta­tion Force Un­leashed.”

Rainier was born four months af­ter Reyes, then 18, en­tered the United States on a tourist visa hop­ing to give her child a bet­ter life than the one he would have faced in her poor min­ing town in Du­rango, Mex­ico.

He has al­ways felt fully Amer­i­can, no dif­fer­ent from his white class­mates. But now, in this county that voted 83 per­cent for Trump, he sud­denly hears peo­ple spitting out: “Go back to your own coun­try,” or “Go mow a lawn.”

Ru­mors about de­por­ta­tions are fly­ing. Reyes heard from a friend that immigration agents were ar­rest­ing peo­ple at Walmart. Oth­ers say it was at a dif­fer­ent store. Or at road­blocks.

The fam­ily stays home more often now but still went to church yes­ter­day, join­ing 1,400 oth­ers at a Span­ish-lan­guage Catholic Mass. Their pas­tor says many more are choos­ing to skip Mass, wor­ried that fed­eral agents might stake out the church.

Reyes is wor­ried, too, but said she and her fam­ily agreed to be in­ter­viewed for this story be­cause they want peo­ple to bet­ter un­der­stand the im­mi­grants who are be­ing threat­ened with de­por­ta­tion. Amid so much “un­cer­tainty and fear,” she says, “I hope we can do some good.”

What’s hap­pen­ing now doesn’t seem fair to Rainier. Amer­i­cans hire the un­doc­u­mented to build their houses, pick their crops, mow their lawns, wash their dishes. They’re happy to take the hard, low-pay­ing jobs no­body else wants. In re­turn, they’d like to live with­out fear of be­ing de­ported. Rainier says fam­i­lies like his are be­ing tar­geted for prob­lems they have not cre­ated.

“Most of them are just nor­mal peo­ple that are try­ing to get a bet­ter way of life,” Rainier says. “It’s one thing to de­port peo­ple who have crim­i­nal records — that’s fine. It’s an­other thing to de­port fam­i­lies that haven’t done any­thing wrong.”

Trump has ar­gued that un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants take jobs from Amer­i­can work­ers, de­press wages and over­bur­den gov­ern­ment ser­vices. Stud­ies have par­tially con­firmed that view, at least in the short term.

“I wish we could go back to a time when we could live, not just ex­ist, when ev­ery­thing wasn’t a strug­gle.” Ta­mara Estes

Last year, an ex­haus­tive study by the re­spected Na­tional Academies of Sciences found that un­doc­u­mented work­ers can tem­po­rar­ily de­press wages slightly for the low­est cat­e­gory of un­skilled jobs. But the study found “lit­tle to no neg­a­tive ef­fects on over­all wages and em­ploy­ment of na­tive-born work­ers in the longer term.”

The same study said that newly ar­rived im­mi­grants are a net cost to tax­pay­ers, pri­mar­ily due to the ex­pense of ed­u­cat­ing their chil­dren. But those chil­dren, and their chil­dren af­ter them, more than make up for it, con­tribut­ing far more in taxes to state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments than they take in ser­vices.

Most econ­o­mists do not blame il­le­gal im­mi­grants for the de­cline of the U.S. work­ing class. They ar­gue that im­mi­grants boost the na­tion’s for­tunes by filling un­de­sir­able jobs at low pay, cut­ting the cost of many goods and ser­vices.

Rainier’s par­ents have worked for years clean­ing homes, work­ing in a glue fac­tory, in­stalling bath­room par­ti­tions, nail­ing base­boards. Four years ago, they pooled their life sav­ings to buy their lit­tle house, pay­ing $40,000 in cash at a fore­clo­sure sale.

They now pay $1,700 a year in prop­erty tax. They file fed­eral re­turns on in­come of about $30,000 in a good year, in­clud­ing with­hold­ings for So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care — ben­e­fits they are un­likely ever to re­ceive.

Na­tion­wide, un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants pay about $11.7 bil­lion a year in state and lo­cal in­come, sales and prop­erty taxes, in­clud­ing about $1.5 bil­lion in Texas, ac­cord­ing to the non­par­ti­san In­sti­tute on Tax­a­tion and Eco­nomic Pol­icy. And more than 4 mil­lion peo­ple who do not have So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers — most of them un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants — file fed­eral tax re­turns us­ing In­di­vid­ual Tax­payer Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Num­bers is­sued by the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice.

Rainier’s fam­ily has been try­ing for two decades to be­come le­gal. Since 1997, his father, Ni­co­las Ne­varez, 38, has had an ap­pli­ca­tion pend­ing for a res­i­dent visa through his father, an un­doc­u­mented worker granted U.S. cit­i­zen­ship un­der Ron­ald Rea­gan’s 1986 amnesty pro­gram.

Last year, the United States is­sued only 801 visas in his cat­e­gory — a Mex­i­can mar­ried adult child of a U.S. cit­i­zen — out of a wait­ing list of more than 204,000. His lawyer tells him to be pa­tient.

“I’m try­ing to do ev­ery­thing right,” Ne­varez says. “But 20 years?”

Ne­varez and Reyes have no health in­sur­ance and con­stantly worry about get­ting sick, al­though their chil­dren are el­i­gi­ble for Med­i­caid. When Rainier needed knee surgery last year, it was fully cov­ered. Rainier’s par­ents tell him val­ora la opor­tu­nidad — ap­pre­ci­ate the op­por­tu­nity he has in Amer­ica — and he does. But he has no idea how he will pay for col­lege, so he is think­ing that right af­ter high school he will en­list in the U.S. Army.

“It’s my coun­try and I want to serve,” he says, as he picks up his trum­pet case and back­pack and heads off to school.

Fallen from the mid­dle class

Af­ter fin­ish­ing her morn­ing route, Estes parks her yel­low school bus and clocks out. It’s 9 a.m. Her af­ter­noon shift starts at 2:30. It would take too much gas to drive home and back, so she waits in the park­ing lot, un­paid, in her Honda Fit.

She eats a blue­berry muf­fin out of a plas­tic bag and lis­tens to the ra­dio, where Mark Davis is prais­ing Trump’s first weeks in of­fice.

Estes thinks Trump is off to a great start. She wanted to high­five the new pres­i­dent when he said in his in­au­gu­ral ad­dress, “The for­got­ten men and women of our coun­try will be for­got­ten no longer.”

She says it was as if Trump was speak­ing di­rectly to her.

Estes grew up in Dallas, in a grand home with a built-in pool. She even had her own horse. Her mother died when she was 4, so she lived with her father, a small-busi­ness owner who drove a red Thun­der­bird con­vert­ible. Then her father died when she was 19. She quickly mar­ried and, by 26, was di­vorced with two kids.

She has worked a life­time of jobs that have paid less and less. She was a scrub tech at a med­i­cal clinic, a courier car­ry­ing blue­prints for a de­vel­oper, a shut­tle driver for a casino. Years ago, she moved an hour north of Dallas, where she could af­ford a tiny house on a two-acre plot carved from a vast ex­panse of wheat fields.

Now she is al­most 60, raised in up­per-mid­dle-class com­fort and liv­ing in work­ing-class stress.

Estes re­grets not go­ing to col­lege and be­com­ing a vet­eri­nar­ian. On the ra­dio, she hears that good jobs for peo­ple with only a high school diploma have been stolen by glob­al­iza­tion and au­to­ma­tion: China and ro­bots. She knows that it may take Trump more time to bring those jobs back.

But she’s thrilled that he is mov­ing on his promise to kick out the “il­le­gals.”

“They’ll be out of here so frickin’ fast!” Trump said at a Dallas cam­paign rally in Septem­ber 2015, as Estes and 20,000 oth­ers cheered.

She’s also grate­ful that a pres­i­dent is fi­nally talking about “an­chor ba­bies.”

Most le­gal schol­ars say that re­vok­ing birthright cit­i­zen­ship would take an­other con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment, a com­pli­cated process that re­quires twothirds ap­proval of both cham­bers of Congress and rat­i­fi­ca­tion by three-quar­ters of the states.

Trump, how­ever, has sug­gested sim­ply chal­leng­ing the pre­vail­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tion in court. “Some very, very good lawyers” be­lieve chil­dren of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants “do not have Amer­i­can cit­i­zen­ship,” he said dur­ing the cam­paign.

In Jan­uary, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) rein­tro­duced the Birthright Cit­i­zen­ship Act, which would grant cit­i­zen­ship to an in­fant only if at least one par­ent was a U.S. cit­i­zen, a law­ful per­ma­nent res­i­dent or a nonci­t­i­zen serv­ing in the U.S. mil­i­tary.

Some Texas of­fi­cials have pur­sued a back­door ap­proach to cut­ting ben­e­fits to the chil­dren of un­doc­u­mented par­ents by lim­it­ing the forms of parental iden­ti­fi­ca­tion they will ac­cept when is­su­ing birth cer­tifi­cates. With­out a birth cer­tifi­cate, a child can­not prove cit­i­zen­ship and there­fore has no ac­cess to gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits.

Af­ter Mex­i­can and Cen­tral Amer­i­can par­ents sued in fed­eral court, Texas of­fi­cials agreed last year to ac­cept more forms of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, in­clud­ing Mex­i­can voter ID cards — but only af­ter more than 1,000 ba­bies were de­nied birth cer­tifi­cates, said Jen­nifer Har­bury, an at­tor­ney with Texas RioGrande Le­gal Aid.

“The anti-im­mi­grant fac­tion is def­i­nitely em­bold­ened,” Har­bury said.

Sit­ting in her car, Estes switches over to 820 AM, where Rush Lim­baugh is singing her tune.

“Immigration is the pri­mary rea­son Don­ald Trump was elected,” he says. “Th­ese ICE raids — peo­ple are ap­plaud­ing them!”

Alike but far apart

By the time Estes fin­ishes her route and ar­rives back home, the sun has already set. Her head­lights splash across her lit­tle house, and her dogs start bark­ing. She breeds Dober­man pin­sch­ers for ex­tra cash.

Min­utes later, Ne­varez pulls into his drive­way.

The daily rou­tines are sim­i­lar in th­ese two small, pre­fab­ri­cated houses on a flat road paved into the North Texas prairie. Both fam­i­lies raise chick­ens and dogs, work long days for lit­tle pay and pray for bet­ter at church on Sun­day.

In four years, the neigh­bors have barely spo­ken. Once, Ne­varez and some other Mex­i­can im­mi­grants helped Estes dig a grave for one of her dogs. She seemed friendly enough. But then the Trump sign ap­peared on her lawn, and the dis­tance be­tween them grew.

At the kitchen ta­ble, Rainier, fresh from track prac­tice, de­vours four en­chi­ladas. His father eats a few bites. He’s tired and doesn’t say much. He spent the day on a 30-foot lad­der, hang­ing shut­ters on houses. His hair is flecked with saw­dust.

Next door, Estes is in her kitchen, too tired to cook. Some­times she eats a few cheese cubes af­ter her even­ing chores. But when she checks the fridge, there are none left. She sinks into her re­cliner. She says her op­po­si­tion to “il­le­gals” isn’t per­sonal. When she needs help around the house, she says, her His­panic neigh­bors of­fer be­fore “my white neigh­bors do.” She doesn’t want the kids on her bus to think she is heart­less for sup­port­ing de­por­ta­tion raids. But she says some­thing has to change.

She flips on the TV. She has recorded eight hours of in­au­gu­ra­tion cov­er­age on C-SPAN and a two-hour His­tory Chan­nel doc­u­men­tary on Trump, which she now starts watch­ing.

“They are losers! They are ba­bies!” Trump is shout­ing.

She laughs. He sure is en­ter­tain­ing.

Trump’s boom­ing voice fills her small house: “The work­ing class is go­ing to strike back!”

“Yes,” Estes says. “Yes!”

Estes wanted to high-five Trump when he said in his in­au­gu­ral ad­dress, “The for­got­ten men and women of our coun­try will be for­got­ten no longer.”

PHO­TOS BY LINDA DAVID­SON/THE WASHINGTON POST

Ta­mara Estes, top, in Val­ley View, Tex., breeds Dober­man dogs for sale and drives a school bus, car­ry­ing many chil­dren she views as “an­chor ba­bies.” Rainier Cor­ral and his sis­ter, above, both U.S.-born, and their un­doc­u­mented par­ents are Estes’s neigh­bors.

PHO­TOS BY LINDA DAVID­SON/THE WASHINGTON POST

FROM TOP: Ta­mara Estes, 59, in her back yard Feb. 18 in Val­ley View, Tex., with the Dober­man pin­sch­ers she breeds for in­come. She feels that un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants en­joy more ben­e­fits than cit­i­zens like her and strongly sup­ports Pres­i­dent Trump’s hard line on de­por­ta­tions. Estes chats with Karisa Bean in the nurs­ery at Grace Bi­ble Church in Sanger, Tex., on Feb. 19. At home, Estes looks at her dog show awards and pho­tos, re­flect­ing on when “it was a hap­pier time in life.”

PHO­TOS BY LINDA DAVID­SON/THE WASHINGTON POST

FROM TOP: U.S.-born Rainier Cor­ral, 15, does chores at home on a Sun­day last month in Val­ley View, Tex. The Sun­day-best boots that were worn to church that day by Rainier, left, his father, top, and younger brother. The fam­ily has break­fast be­fore go­ing to church. Be­cause Rainier and his si­b­lings are U.S.-born while their par­ents are in the coun­try as un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, the fam­ily could be split apart if the par­ents are caught up in Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­por­ta­tion drive.

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