On a recent night, by the Miramar Reservoir in San Diego County, a man named Erwin sat at a picnic table scrolling through dozens of texts from his wife. He read aloud her warnings about police patrolling a road near their home.
“‘There’s a lot of cops out tonight,’” he read. “Cops everywhere.’ ‘Be careful; lots of cops.’ ‘Too many cops.’
“Every time I want to get a burger or juice or anything like that and I leave the house, she will text me ‘There’s a lot of cops. Be careful,’” Erwin explained. “It’s a reality that we live in. We adapt our life and our every day to it.”
Erwin, who asked not to use his last name for fear of deportation, is a 27-year old business manager, husband and father of a 6-month-old baby girl. He’s also a Congolese immigrant whose visa expired. His wife, a U.S. citizen, fears what would happen if police stop him.
Although California is a sanctuary state — with protections for immigrants who lack documentation authorizing them to be in the United States — there are loopholes and law enforcement sometimes works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Beyond that, Erwin worries a traffic stop might escalate. “Believe me, in my country, I would never have to worry about getting pulled over and being scared that they’re going to shoot me,” he said.
Erwin wants to swap his foreign driver’s license for a California one.
“Before I didn’t have a family, so I could risk it,” he said, “but now I have my family and I drive my kid everywhere we go. So I decided to get right and get the driver’s license, so it’s less of an issue if I get pulled over.”