An Elite Soccer Team Protests ICE After Their Teammate Is Detained

Donald Trump’s immigration policies—and the marching orders he has given to Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE)—are destroying lives. Many people intuit this in the abstract, but when it hits home it gets very real, very quickly.

It’s a reality that recently smacked the members of the elite Bethesda Soccer Club right between the eyes: Their teammate and friend Lizandro Claros Saravia was detained by ICE, along with his older brother Diego. Both were deported on Wednesday.

Lizandro, like many players on the Bethesda Soccer Club, has an athletic scholarship waiting for him at Louisberg College in North Carolina. He is considered one of the top 50 soccer players in the extremely competitive DMV region. “He didn’t always have access to a car, but he was at every training session, whether he had to take the bus or walk,” said Matt Ney, who coached Lizandro for two years on the Bethesda club, according to The Washington Post. “He would show up no matter what.”

The brothers migrated to this country as children in 2009, fleeing widespread violence in El Salvador. Their status in 2012—again, as child refugees fleeing violence—involved “voluntary check-ins” with immigration officials. But that was ICE under the Obama administration (which was brutal enough). When they went in for a check-in under Trump, they were imprisoned like criminals and immediately scheduled for deportation. Lizandro had a promising future as a soccer player, and Diego worked in a car-repair shop in Baltimore. Neither brother had a criminal record. None of that mattered to ICE.

Their heartless imprisonment and wrenching separation from family and friends speaks to the Trump agenda of using ICE as a tool of psychological and physical violence against non-European immigrant families. It’s perfectly in line with the Stephen Miller/Bannon/Gorka wing of the White House, which is obsessed with racial demography and openly contemptuous of the immigrant journey that their own parents and grandparents had to make. This seething trio is a part of Trump’s inner circle that has been conspicuously untouched by firings and resignations.

The one satisfaction in this horror story is imagining their mottled faces when learning that Lizandro’s teammates—many of them white, private-school educated, and economically comfortable—protested the pending deportations outside the Department of Homeland Security headquarters in northwest Washington this past week. They must have choked on their coffee when reading about young people like Lizandro’s former teammate St. Albans graduate Foster McCune, who was out there in the summer heat protesting the DHS. McCune has a full athletic ride to Georgetown, one of the top soccer programs in the country. “This is about so much more than soccer now,” he said to The Washington Post. “We want our friend back.” People like Foster McCune were standing side by side with Lizandro and Diego’s sister, Fatima, who wept during the team’s demonstration and held a sign that read: “Stop separating families. Let my brothers live their American dream.”

The sports world is currently in a flutter over LaDainian Tomlinson’s Hall of Fame speech, where he said:

All our ancestors, unless we’re American Indian, came from another country, another culture.… America is the land of opportunity. Let’s not slam the door on those who may look different from us. Rather, let’s open it wide for those who believe in themselves, that anything is possible, and are willing to compete and take whatever risks are necessary to work hard, to succeed.

It’s a lovely sentiment. But journalists and athletes should back their glowing tweets with deeds, and stand with a great young athlete whose life is being destroyed by an amoral administration running an anti-immigration operation straight out of the West Wing. I want to plead with my fellow journalists to report on this story in the name of athletic solidarity and basic human justice. We should fight to get the Claros brothers back to Maryland where they can live their lives in the home of their choice. There is a pressing need for all of us to take a lead from the Bethesda Soccer Club—a sentence I never thought I’d write—and stand up. Those of us who are not threatened by deportation have a duty to our friends and neighbors. In the decades to come, you don’t want the shame of telling your grandchildren that you looked the other way.

• First published in The Nation

Dave Zirin is the author of Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love (Scribner). He can be reached at: Read other articles by David, or visit David's website.