El Rancho Supermarkets are like New York’s bodegas – but on steroids. The aisles are still pretty narrow but the produce is fresh and affordable. You can find authentic products from Latin America, so this place is a magnet for people like me – foreign-born.
In the last few weeks, shoppers have reported a decline in adult customers, saying children are doing the grocery shopping.
In fact, on my trip to the store I saw four separate children shopping on their own. Normally, when someone sees an unattended child, they might call the police. A child shopping on their own should raise a red flag – they may be suffering from abuse or neglect.
But a number of experts I spoke to for this story told me anecdotally that businesses have heard of how fearful the immigrant community in Texas is right now.
Many people who may be here illegally believe raids and deportations are imminent. United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says that fear is unsubstantiated – agents are going about their business as usual. But Monday, ICE reported 62 arrests in San Antonio, 38 in Harlingen, 29 in Laredo and 24 in the Austin/Waco area. Tuesday, reports said there were 50 more arrests in North Texas.
Despite their fears, and those numbers, immigrants are trying to go on with their lives as usual. So unauthorized parents fearful of deportation are more likely to send their American citizen children out shopping, or try to stay off the road. But there are subtle ways in which businesses are helping immigrants as well.
Outside El Rancho, Beatriz Jimenez tells me she’s heard immigrant organizations warning about upcoming raids.
“Porque avisan que hay redadas – no se si sea cierto o no, pero a veces ellos dejan de salir.”
“I don’t know if the raids are real,” Jimenez says in Spanish. “But the truth is people don’t come out as much.”
By looking the other way, businesses are protecting parents and their own bottom line.
El Rancho Supermarket executives did not want to be recorded for this story. But they told me they don’t keep track of who shops and who doesn’t at their stores. They said – regardless of who’s doing the shopping – their profits have not dropped.
In a residential neighborhood, I meet two construction workers replacing a roof. One of them – Crecencio, with no last name in order to protect his identity – tells me he recently started teaching his 16-year-old daughter how to drive.
“Estamos enseñándola a manejar.”
He wants her to take over the errands, that way he and his wife can minimize their driving.
“Que vaya ella a hacer mandados que si nosotros podemos evitarlos [los mandados] que lo[s] haga ella.”
Crecencio says he’s heard a lot of people get arrested while driving. An officer may ask them to pull over, and the next thing they know – they’re being deported.
Small business owners like Yazil Rodriguez are also making subtle changes to their business practices.
Rodriguez is a nail artist who uses rhinestones, faux pearls and plastic flowers to embellish her clients’ nails.
“La mayoría de mis clientas de ahorita ya son de muchos años. … La mayoría de mis clientas son Hispanas.”
“Most of my clients have been with me for years,” she says in Spanish. “The majority are Hispanic.”
Rodriguez’ salon is like a wonderland of sparkles. As she talks she applies rhinestones to my short matte gray nails.
Her creations can be intricate and expensive. That’s why she asks for a deposit before each visit.
“Para que no se dieran la vuelta hasta acá – no más por el depósito – decidí hacerlo por PayPal.”
But she says her clients are fearful of driving these days – so Rodriguez is saving them a trip by taking deposits over PayPal.
It is a small thing. But she says her clients feel better knowing they’re able to keep up with their beauty routine while she’s able to keep her doors open.
Actually, that was a figure of speech. Rodriguez now keeps her doors closed – to protect her clients from ICE agents. She’s heard that if they want to enter into her sparkly world, they need a warrant.