I came to the United States from Ecuador at age four. Growing up undocumented, I saw my elders as marvels of nature. They could control their bladders if their shift managers would not let them use the bathroom. They could pick fruit in 120-degree weather while wearing long, black sleeves and bandannas tied around their faces. They could live off tips thrown at them across a countertop and still go to church on Sunday without cursing their God. They reminded me of the creatures I grew up reading about: wood frogs that can live in frigid temperatures, relying on the antifreeze in their veins to stay alive, or sidewinder vipers that move so rapidly upon the Southwestern desert they barely touch its sands. They had carved out a life for themselves in the most inhospitable conditions on earth.
Immigrants like me have come under renewed assault. In September, the Trump administration announced its plans to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Now the fate of some 800,000 Dreamers living in the United States is in limbo on Capitol Hill—a bargaining chip for the construction of a border wall, 10,000 additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, the implementation of an E-Verify program to fire undocumented workers, and stringent measures to bar unaccompanied minors from Central America from entering the United States. But this devil’s bargain is only one of the many realities haunting immigrant communities. Since the inauguration, ICE has been targeting parents and spouses of American citizens, and police officers have arrested schoolchildren on the vague suspicion that they belong to Central American gangs. In February, authorities detained a woman at a courthouse where she had been seeking a protective order against her abuser. And throughout the United States, depression, anxiety, and PTSD are devastating immigrant communities.
This past fall, my father, who has lived in this country for 30 years and paid his taxes and sent his kid to Harvard and Yale was hospitalized for cardiac trouble. The doctor told me that doing manual labor for so many years had made his heart grow bigger. It would be poetic if it couldn’t kill. The life of an immigrant takes a toll.
Over the past five months, photographer Ellen Jacob has sought to bring such stories to light. Her subjects, many of whose names have been changed for this story, have different origins, ages, and languages, but what ties them together is the endless threat of deportation. With photos like these, it can no longer be said that immigrants live in the shadows. Today, as the Trump administration pursues a crackdown on immigrant communities, our stories are everywhere, demonstrating that we are human, not extremophiles or aliens. We are strangers in the land of Egypt who have walked so long, given so much, and are simply asking to be allowed to stay in this country we call home.