A project of the Center for Community Change

Jerry is left behind

Usually the mainstream press cover a new raid for 12-30 hours after it happens. Then, these stories disappear into the news cycle, so much easier to forget. But we all know that the raids send huge shock waves through communities that are NEVER the same afterwards. Only three short weeks ago we told you about the earth shattering raids in New Haven, CT- advocates continue to work there to help families, just as they do in New Bedford, MA, in Willmar, MN and in countless other communities abused by ICE.

Here is one family’s story of continued struggle to survive:

Boy caught in immigration fight
Mary E. O’Leary, Register Topics Editor
06/21/2007
 Jerry Sarmiento, 14, of New Haven outside his home in Fair Haven. His mother is still incarcerated as an illegal immigrant. Peter Hvizdak/Register (Buy Register photos)  
-NEW HAVEN — Jerry Sarmiento misses his mother the most in the morning.

“I just don’t feel like getting out of bed because every morning she used to come in and wake me up,” said Jerry, a 14-year-old middle schooler.

He says he has a heavy feeling in his chest since she’s been gone. “She is everything to me,” he said.

Jerry’s world changed June 6 when federal immigration agents surrounded his house and roused the family from bed at 6 a.m.

“They said they were looking for someone from Guatemala,” Jerry said, but once inside the Fair Haven apartment, they said his mother, Ivania Sotelo, 47, had to go with them “because there are some papers for you.”
 
Jerry said agents handcuffed her.

“I was like in shock, seeing my mom getting handcuffed, just taken down for nothing,” he said, with the father and son crying as the van pulled away.

Sarahi Almonte, executive director of Junta for Progressive Action, which has been leading the effort to help the families of illegal immigrants, said Jerry is being very brave, and she hopes he talks it out with others.

“The city is deeply concerned … about the way that these raids traumatized children. The city has gathered affidavits from children and parents about the profound impact that this experience has had on them. Some of these children are exhibiting extreme anxiety and will require mental health counseling,” Almonte noted at a recent press conference.

The numbers keep changing, but it now appears 31 illegal immigrants were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers June 6 and in a separate raid June 11 in Greater New Haven.

The eighth-grader at Amistad Academy has visited his mother once in the Cumberland County Jail at Portland, Maine, where she is being held on a deportation order.

Five of those picked up had prior deportation orders, the rest were collateral arrests. Typical of such raids, the arrests have split families and in this case affected 50 children.

Jerry, accompanied by an older cousin, talked for an hour with his mother through a glass partition in the jail visiting room.

“You can’t touch until basically one minute before you leave. If you do, they say they will kick you out,” Jerry said.

He was taken aback that she is part of the general prison population.

“What I really didn’t like is they had her next to the drug addicts and the killers,” he said of the visit to his mother.

There was some good news Wednesday when Yale lawyers were able to get a judge to stay the deportation order against Sotelo. It will be months, however, before a ruling will be made on a motion to reopen the case and get her an asylum hearing, which she never had. Only if the motion is approved can the lawyers argue over bail.

“They could have removed (deported) her at anytime in the last two weeks, and (Jerry) had to go to sleep every night knowing he might wake up to that possibility. Now he knows, his mother is not going to be deported, not for months, at the earliest,” said lead attorney, Michael Wishnie, a Yale law professor.

Jerry goes to school every day, and said friends and teachers have rallied behind him and his father, Samuel Sarmiento, 44, a native of Ecuador. Students have started a letter-writing campaign to the congressional delegation seeking help for those arrested.

“It actually helped me a lot because now I know they care about me, especially the teachers,” Jerry said.

Jerry attended Amistad, a charter school, for part of fifth grade, then moved to Georgia, before coming back to Amistad for the seventh and eighth grades. Born in New Jersey, he is an American citizen.

He lights up when talking about his school and its program, particularly compared to schools he attended in other states.

For a teen who likes to dance and play sports, Tuesday was a good day for Jerry. He and fellow eighth-graders spent the day at Holiday Hill in Cheshire as part of graduation activities. Later that night, he looked forward to a phone call from his mother, but at almost $30 for half an hour, the monitored call is an expensive treat.

Samuel Sarmiento, a roofer, said his wife, who works in a factory, has filed taxes from 1991-96 when she was in the United States and again since she returned in 2001, in anticipation of someday becoming a citizen.

The Yale lawyers are generally challenging the manner in which ICE conducted the raids, while the agency denies entering homes without consent and conducting illegal searches.

With the future uncertain over whether he will remain in the United States to attend Amistad Academy High School, Jerry still wants to eventually become an architect and study at Yale.

Whatever the future brings, the Fair Haven teen is looking forward to graduation tonight and a call to his mother.

“When I tell her I got my diploma and I graduated, she is probably going to break down and cry because she wasn’t there for that special moment,” Jerry said.

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