When a teenage girl’s single mom is taken by ICE, everything changes—all of her hopes and dreams for the future have turned into survival.
Seventeen-year-old Rania is shaken awake in her family's apartment in Brooklyn. ICE is at the door, taking her mother away. But Ammi has done everything right, hasn’t she? Their asylum case is fine.
This was supposed to be Rania’s greatest summer: hanging out with her best friend, Fatima, and getting ready for college in the fall.
But it’s 2019, and nothing is certain.
Now, along with her younger brother, Kamal, and a new friend, Carlos, Rania must figure out how to survive. A road trip leads to searching for answers to questions she didn’t even think to ask.
In this vivid exploration of what happens when the country you have put your hopes into is fast shutting down, award-winning author Marina Budhos shows us how one girl bursting with dreams navigates secrets, love, and the lure of the open road.
An Excerpt fromWe Are All We Have
Brooklyn, New York
It takes a second for the words to drip into the thick soup of my sleep.
The words make ripples in my half dreams. A lamp switches on and a bright band of light stings my lids. “Rania! They’re here.”
I wrench up from the quilt, my heart quivering. “Who?”
“Just come.” Ammi nods to the other bed, where my little brother, Kamal, is sleeping. “Don’t wake him.”
“Of course,” I grumble. I punch my pillow and force myself to get up. Kamal is protected. He’s sensitive. Don’t let him hear. With me, her voice is flat, practical.
I follow her out of the bedroom; she’s still in her jacket from work—a black windbreaker that makes a rubbing noise as she walks. The keys are still in the open door. She hasn’t even pulled out her sofa bed.
Several people are crowded outside our apartment. The fizzing, garbled sound of a walkie-talkie from the hall cuts through our living room. My heart speeds up. They’re in black quilted vests with police on the back.
No. Not us.
A woman turns to me, the one with the walkie-talkie. “Hold,” she says, and clicks off. “And this is?”
“Any other children in the apartment?”
“And your daughter is how old?”
A hesitation. “Eighteen.”
“Ammi—” I start, but she flashes me a cool, forbidding look.
That’s a lie! I want to yell. I’m not eighteen for seven months—December. I’m tall, very tall, taking after my dad, so most people think I’m older than I am. I get away with a lot: the teachers who don’t say a word when I come to pick up my little brother; the kids who hit on me to buy them beer at the liquor store. Me and Ammi both stretch the truth when we have to.
The woman looks up at me. “We’ll have to see some ID, then.”
Ammi gives her one of her charming smiles. “Can you wait just a moment?” She takes my arm and draws me into the foyer.
“Ammi!” I whisper. “My ID says I’m seventeen! Why did you—”
“Hush.” She sets her hands on my shoulders. Ammi is so short, she has to lift her chin meet my gaze, but she can still terrify me with one firm look. “No time for panic or baby stuff.”
“I’m not a baby!”
Her eyes dart in a dozen directions. “There’s a plan—”
“What plan?” I yank up my sweatpants, worrying the string.
“I tried to call Maria Auntie but she’s not home. She’s on a shift.”
“Why did you say I was eighteen?”
“Rania!” She shakes me lightly. “You’re minors. You can’t be left on your own.”
On our own? My eyes swing around the foyer. Wait. Panic starts up in my chest. Ammi can’t go.
She’s fumbling inside a table drawer, taking out an envelope. Ammi once showed me the paper inside, explaining, “If anything happens, this is what you need. It’s a standby guardianship form. Maria Auntie will take care of you.”
Maria Auntie lives down the hall and is our surrogate aunt since we don’t have any family in this country. She brings us foil dishes of arepas and tamales and we keep our extra keys with her. Maria Auntie is a lot like Ammi—she’s got hustles and side-hustles to keep her family going.
“Everything okay over there?” the officer calls over to us.
Ammi pulls me back to the doorway. “My mistake. My daughter is eighteen in a few months.”
The woman gives us a skeptical look. “So you’ve appointed a standby guardian?”
“Yes, yes.” She thrusts the folded paper at the officer, who reads it.
“And where is Maria Alvarez?”
My mother’s voice fades. “Working.”
The woman squints at the form. “And who is this—Lucia Alvarez?”
“Lucia!” my mother says brightly. “Yes, yes! She is home. Maria’s daughter.”
Oh great, I think. Lucia. The biggest mess-up around. She dropped out of LaGuardia College and got in trouble with some creepy boyfriend.
The officer goes down the hall and presses, hard, on Maria Auntie’s buzzer. A few other doors in the hall crack open, some still with the chain attached, worried eyes peering out. I feel a humiliating burn around my ears. We have seen this before. Men and women in these same jackets swarming up the stairs. Calling through the door. Crying and pleading and then our neighbors were gone.
“Who is it?”
Before the officer can speak, Ammi calls out, “It’s us! Sadia and Rania!”
The door swings open. Lucia’s eyes are smeary, one side of her curly hair flattened. “Yeah?”
When the officer explains the situation, she rolls her eyes, as if to say, You guys are always a pain. I’ve heard her complain to Maria Auntie that they shouldn’t get involved with other people’s problems.
There’s a footfall behind me. Turning, I see Kamal in his rumpled pajamas, rubbing his eyes. “Ammi?” he mumbles.
My mother looks crushed. Everything she does is to never let Kamal know this could happen. Me, I’m always supposed to go along with her, even if it makes no sense.
“Take him back in,” the walkie-talkie woman says to Ammi, firm.
“May I say goodbye?”
The woman sighs. “This isn’t a good idea.”
My whole body clenches. Every part of me wants to scream: Then don’t take my mother.
Ammi kneels down. She’s in slacks and a crisp shirt, as if for an office, even though she’s been driving all night for Uber. Kamal stretches his thin arms around her neck and nestles in her hair. She’s murmuring to him calmly. I’m furious—and scared. Then Ammi wipes her eyes.
“Just a minute.”
“Ma’am, don’t make this harder.”
She stands. She puts something in my palm—cool and bumpy—it’s her keys, to the car, to everything else. She draws me close. I smell sandalwood and a trace of coconut oil in her hair, the stuff that I use for my unruly waves. My mother is so young, it’s as if we’re sisters, not mother and daughter. “You can drive,” she whispers. “Remember that.”
True. Ammi made sure I took driver’s ed, even though I use buses and the subway everywhere. She never lets me drive the car. But she’s always ready to flee. We keep a suitcase packed with a set of overnight clothes and toothbrushes in the bottom of our closet; we never buy too much for the apartment—one wok, one tawa pan, silverware for four, so we always have to wash our forks and knives after eating. The story of our life, for so long.
But this time, it’s not the three of us, packed up, sprung and ready to go. Just her. I call out, “Wait! It’s a mistake!”
Ammi pulls back. Her face has gone hard. “Not now, Rania.”
“In the morning, call Lidia. She knows what to do.” That’s our lawyer.
My mother and I stare at each other. A staticky voice comes through the walkie-talkie. “We need you down here. Another group. A van.”
“Roger that,” the woman says. “I’ve got some collateral here too.”
The woman gestures to Lucia, who grudgingly comes and stands by our door. “You’re over eighteen?”
Lucia looks defiant. “Just turned the big twenty.”
“Can I see ID?”
Here Lucia’s bravado falters. She’s undocumented. The whole family is. She fishes out an ID, the woman scribbles down the information, then gives it back. “Okay, you’ll need to stay with them. We’ll send someone to make sure your mother is serving as standby.”
The officer gently takes my mother’s elbow and guides her past half-opened doors and frightened faces. Kamal flings his arms around me, presses his head into my stomach.
Lucia nervously picks at her fingers. Behind her toughness, she’s scared. Just like us. She puts her hand on Kamal’s back. “Thanks,” I whisper.
And then we are watching stunned as Ammi disappears down the stairwell, swallowed up in a mound of heads and shoulders. It’s only after she leaves that it sinks in.
This was a raid. An ICE raid.
I wrench Kamal into our apartment, slam the door, and push down a sob. No. I can’t break down in front of Kamal. Back in our bedroom, I nudge him into bed. Even though he’s trembling and confused, he slides his bare feet under the blanket and turns his back to me. I rush to the window. Down below, several ICE agents mill in the hot glare of lights. One puts a palm on Ammi’s head, steering her toward the back of the van. She glances up at me, to our window. I see her mouth move.
Run, I’m sure she’s saying. Run.