Friday Morning Coffee Contemplation: Death by Pandemic or Life of Persecution?

As I sip a warm cup of silky-smooth java in front of a warm winter's fire in the comfort of our recently remodeled urban-American home that Enrique and I hand-sculpted to our liking, I (begrudgingly) catch up on the morning news.  As the darkness of night gives way to daylight, I wish I could say the same for news of the unrelenting injustices of American immigration and the rapid onset of the Coronavirus pandemic seems to invite the darkness to stay.

Headlines tell the story of asylum seekers from El Salvador and Honduras flown from the U.S. southern border to Guatemala. Images of mothers and children being shipped away to a foreign country without any idea where they have been taken weigh heavy on me. Innocent human beings seeking refuge placed in shackles as they are whisked away with little information about their journey reveals yet another example of humanity at its worst as the current administration continues its relentless inhumane treatment of Central American refugees.

News of a pending presidential declaration of a national emergency brought on by a global health pandemic leaves me pondering - What kind of care will provided for detained immigrants should the virus make its way into the many overcrowded detention centers?

We've seen their targeting of the poor and helpless brown-skinned immigrants, their separation of families, their brutal incarceration and neglect, the lack of basic necessities and overcrowded facilities. Should neglect give way to contempt be nothing less than genocide? I can't help but worry about our Latinx brothers and sisters who sought to escape harm on the shores of the mighty United States and yet are shackled and facing peril at the hands of the current administration.

Doubly troubling, the COVID-19 Pandemic is sweeping the globe as my husband and I await possible deportation to El Salvador - a 3rd world country with far less ability to respond to a pandemic. Our future hangs in the balance as we await the decision of an administrative judge who, like all immigration judges in America, has been stripped of her ability to execute judicial discretion by the new policies of the xenophobic Trump administration whose primary driver is the whitewashing of America.  On April 8th, our trial for asylum will be heard as the current administration severely limits the qualifications for asylum-seeking Central Americans.

Barbaric policies have redefined what it means to face a credible fear of persecution as protection from gang violence is recently removed as one of the qualifying factors. We are desperately seeking U.S. protection from the gang violence Enrique once fled. Still confronted by gangs today, life in El Salvador is unkind or unrelenting for those living within gang-controlled areas of the country.  Fear of the grave dangers we may face in El Salvador, a nation that does not accept nor have laws to protect LGTBQ+ is unrelenting.

Following a long history of unenforced penalties for crimes against LGTBQ+ members of their society, El Salvador is a machismo society deeply steeped in the Catholic underpinnings that, despite most other nation's acceptance, refuses to recognize same-sex marriage. Sources tell us that it would be best that we plan to live our lives in hiding if we're forced there.

We've been warned on more than one occasion to keep our relationship private as locals describe our love and our marriage as "taboo." And yet, as the U.S. citizen spouse, my own country would have me and my beloved moved right into the lion's den as they've made it all but impossible for us to receive the nation's protection of asylum. Friday morning coffee in hand, I ponder, "What could be worse? Death by a pandemic or a life in persecution?"

Sweeping the entire planet leaving in its wake thousands of deaths, hospitalizations, quarantines, and a multitude of cancelations of nearly every public meeting or event, is a deadly virus that sparked travel bans across the globe. Social distancing is deemed the best preventative. In just a few short weeks, our city (once deemed the "Amature Sports Capital of the World"), will host the greatest spectacle in racing, the Indy 500, with all its events, celebrations, a massive marathon, parades, and camaraderie the economic loss of which could be catastrophic if they were to cancel it.

Treatment takes gobs of money or health insurance for those who contract the disease. We are uninsured!  Sans the few visits to immediate care for a common cold or allergies, Enrique hasn't seen a doctor for more than 15-years. Have you ever noticed the box on a health insurance application, "US Citizen or Permanent Resident?" Despite contributing to income taxes for years, he's not allowed to participate in health insurance. Despite our immigration approved marriage, health insurance is unaffordable and unobtainable for our family. Making matters worse, immigrant families who are caught in the barbaric policies of this administration's public charge risk facing grounds of inadmissibility (loss of immigrant rights) if they seek public assistance. As the world shuts down in the midst of a pandemic, our choices for care are null. I suppose we could pay out-of-pocket but, who could afford the astronomical prices of American health care?

Self-employed in real estate development, our small business is yet to reach a place where we could afford the disgraceful racket that is American health insurance. Both without insurance, the reach of a global pandemic is getting closer. The cost of care is but one hurdle to overcome as loss of income could truly prove catastrophic if consumers can no longer afford to invest in home improvements.

Every dollar counts when you're self-employed. There's no time for being sick as the costs of defending ourselves from deportation and the investments we're preparing to make in the event we're forced to leave is simply unforgiving.

If one of us were to catch the bug, calling off sick is an impossibility. We're in the business of tearing up and rebuilding people's kitchens and bathrooms. To leave one of the most important rooms of a client's house in limbo as we overcome an illness is simply not an option!  Prevention is on the top of our minds as we scurry to prepare for our own social distancing for a while.

Is this what it's like to "make America great again?" Granted the freedom and flexibility of self-employment are benefits we both enjoy and is one of the primary drivers that got us into business in the first place.  Yes, I'm filled with gratitude for the success that we've accomplished not at all a result of any programs put in place by this administration. Certainly the result of our hard work and dedication, I'm thankful for our clean running and for the roof that is over our heads, warm heat and cool air conditioning, electricity at the flip of a switch, and abundance of food, beverages, and other necessities we so conveniently partake of every day! There's no measuring how thankful I am that we're together as the risk of being forced apart draws eerily close.  Having recently traveled to Central American in search of a safe place to live in the event of our deportation, I witnessed families who live with so much less - a truly life-changing experience for me.  And yet, I can't help but contemplate the juxtaposition of our reality. The mere fact that my undocumented husband was issued a Federal tax-ID and forced to pay income taxes for 15-years when yet he will never see the benefit of doing so. As we may face the time of our greatest need, we will go without or will our country see to our care? Or, would we risk losing it all simply in the asking. Are we a public charge?

As if we couldn't be treated any worse, the Trump administration seeks to deport him into harm's way after more than a decade of the state-sponsored robbery. While the US Gov't misled Enrique and millions of other immigrant families as they entered the country disadvantaged by immigration policies, set up to fail with defective immigration documents, and stripped of the right to due process by deceptive and coercive tactics, his dance with such uncertainty just became even the more grave amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 without a pathway to afford care. This is the American dream?

With the richness of Friday morning coffee, my heart is shattered by the dangers of a pandemic virus and the wake of an economic strife that may be yet to follow, the dangers that await us in El Salvador should we be forced to return and living in hiding, and the darkness that has fallen upon the United States of America whose shameful leaders seek profits over people.

This Friday morning coffee contemplation, I arrive at no positive or relieving conclusions.  The sweeping contagion of a pandemic virus, our lack of health insurance, and our inability to apply for Medicaid or other forms of public assistance for fear of being determined a public charge is sickening (no pun intended). Our inability to take time off to heal if we become sick, and our need for work that makes it all the more challenging to adhere to the call for social distance (the preventative standard), and our imminent threat of deportation into the grave dangers of the gang-ridden and LGTBQ-outcasting nation of El Salvador, is simply beyond my comprehension and yet I'm living this life each and every day!

Sipping on this Friday morning as the fire burns and as I am cozily wrapped up in a blanket on the couch, I can't help but feel much gratitude. Thankful for what we have and for what may soon be taken away. Death by pandemic or life of persecution? Friday morning coffee never tasted sweeter.



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