Separated: Q&A with author William D. Lopez

Why did you write Separated: Family and Community in the Aftermath of an Immigration Raid?

I decided to write Separated because the stories I was told deserved more depth, empathy, and richness than other formats would permit. The lives of the women and families at the core of the book are filled with trauma and pain, but also with resiliency, creativity, and the bravery needed to keep families together. I needed a format that allowed me to honor a larger range of human experiences, that allowed the reader to journey with those who lived through a home raid to understand at a visceral level what it means to be a target of immigration enforcement or connected to someone who is.

I can’t really say that I “decided” to write this book. Rather, I felt as though I couldn’t not write this book. I had been trusted with the most intimate parts of people’s lives, and I owed it to those who shared them with me to, in turn, share them with a larger audience in hopes of policy change.

What was the most surprising thing you learned through your writing and research?

I learned immensely while writing and researching and am deeply honored to have been trusted with so many personal stories of trauma and struggle. I could certainly fill another book with those lessons! But one of the most eye-opening pieces of this work for me was the way in which racial profiling manifests itself in any number of ways that do not overtly call out race. Again, I knew this, intellectually, but to see it play out and hear it talked about by so many people who experienced it in quick succession was entirely different. When the apartment was raided, it was only Latino men driving near the property who were pulled over and arrested. I spoke with one man who was arrested for turning off his blinker too soon, according to the officer.

This leads me to a second revelation of this work. I was investigating the impacts of immigration enforcement during the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the logic of deportation and the logic of the choking, shooting, and beating of Black men, women, and boys were strikingly similar. Whether police or ICE, interactions that ended in death or deportation always began with some minor infraction investigated only because the officer chose to do so. Eric Garner was choked to death in Staten Island because the officer chose to confront him about selling individual cigarettes. Sandra Bland was pulled over because she failed to signal a lane change. Arturo, one of the men I write about in Separated, was shackled and detained because he turned his blinker off too soon. So, while communities of color may fear death or deportation, they also fear the arbitrary investigation of seemingly innocuous behaviors that could nonetheless result in death or deportation.

What sets Separated apart from other books covering these issues?

This book is the first to focus specifically on an immigration home raid. While home raids are a frequently used method of enforcement, they often happen swiftly and receive very little public attention and discussion. This book also reads differently than many other immigration books. While the arguments are grounded in research, the “data” are the stories of people’s lives, which unfold as real lives do, with trials and tribulations, twists and turns, complexity and confusion, and more than a little political context. I tried to capture this reality in the writing.

Lastly, this book is written by a Latino (me) about a community in which he lives (the Latino community of Washtenaw County). I hope that we as writers of color can understand that our communities are worth writing about and that our insights are fundamental in telling the stories that others may never have considered.

What is the most important fact that your book helps to reveal?

I think I’ll try and sneak in three facts by writing a long sentence, but I would say the most important fact revealed by this book is that immigration enforcement tactics are extremely violent, rely heavily on racial profiling, and have repercussions that extend far beyond individuals into families and communities.

How do you envision the lasting impact of your book?

It is not lost on me that this book, written about an Obama-era immigration enforcement action, is among the first books that focus on immigration released during the Trump presidency. I assumed this book would come out during the Hillary era, and thus we would be reflecting on the cruelty of immigration enforcement tactics that we had left behind. Instead, we see quite the opposite—a rapid return to immigration enforcement methods that we already know to be detrimental to the health of the communities in which they occur. We see this most blatantly in the increase in the number of worksite raids, like the coordinated raids that just happened throughout Mississippi on the first day of the new school year.

Originally, I hoped this book, among many others, could lead us on a path to atonement and self-reflection for an era passed. Now, I hope it can restructure our conversations and force us to admit the long-lasting damage we are doing through our immigration policies. Basically, instead of being a window into our past, I hope it’s a mirror that pushes us to talk about our present.

Ultimately though, I hope it serves as a testimony to the bravery of those who struggle, every day, to raise happy, healthy families under a government that overtly seeks their removal.

William D. Lopez is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health and the faculty director of public scholarship at the National Center for Institutional Diversity. He is the author of Separated: Family and Community in the Aftermath of an Immigration Raid, now available from Johns Hopkins University Press. Separated comes from Lopez’s research and activism in a community impacted by a 2013 immigration raid conducted by ICE and law enforcement.