The heart of May 1 - New Bedford, MA
Our Team read this article and were touched to our core. We wanted to share it with you on this day May 1 2007 and share our great respect for Mr. Mancia and all those united for immigrant rights today and every day! May 1, 2007
Illegal Families Face Increased Deportations
By JULIA PRESTON
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — The day after his wife was deported to their home country, Honduras, Lilo Mancía grieved as though she had died. Neighbors arrived with doughnuts and juice for their two small children, while Mr. Mancía, an illegal immigrant like his wife, María Briselda Amaya, took telephone calls from relatives and tried not to break down.
“The first thing I thought of was the children,” Mr. Mancía, who is fighting his own deportation order, told the visitors gathered in his second floor walkup apartment in New Bedford a couple of weeks ago. “The future we imagined for them, it all collapsed.”
Last year on May 1, hoping to influence Congress to adopt legislation making illegal immigrants legal, hundreds of thousands of immigrants held marches and work stoppages across the country. This May 1 there will be another round of rallies and marches, but this time immigrants will also be protesting a surge in deportations. The events are expected to be much smaller than a year ago, organizers said, as stepped-up enforcement by the authorities has made illegal immigrants wary of protesting in public and more doubtful that Congress will soon act to give them a chance at legalization.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, facing intense political pressure to toughen enforcement, removed 221,664 illegal immigrants from the country over the last year, an increase of more than 37,000 — about 20 percent — over the year before, according to the agency’s tally. While President Bush and many Democrats have called for a path to legalize some 12 million illegal immigrants, a significant number of Republicans in Congress reject the plan because they view it as amnesty for lawbreakers. They advocate a broader campaign of deportations that would expel many illegal immigrants and, they say, drive millions more to give up and go home.
“We are not calling for I.C.E. to become the Gestapo knocking on doors in the middle of the night,” said Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for NumbersUSA, a group in Washington that seeks to curb immigration. “But we have to increase the likelihood that if you are here illegally you will be caught.”
So far, many of the deportations have caused illegal families to hunker down and plot ways to avoid detection and resist deportation, not run voluntarily for the border, immigrant advocates said. In Massachusetts, immigration agents have been challenged by lawyers, labor unions and state officials who question their raid tactics and are fighting trench by legal trench to block deportations. Mr. Mancía was amazed at the offers of help he received, including from the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, the state’s Department of Social Services and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. Mr. Mancía has been given emergency aid to pay his bills while his deportation case proceeds, and Elizabeth Badger, a public service lawyer in Boston, was still fighting his wife’s deportation after she was on the ground in Honduras.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Mr. Mancía declared defiantly to a downstairs neighbor. “I’m going to stand my ground here until I win.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say their priority is to locate and deport fugitive immigrants with criminal records or convicts who are finishing prison sentences. Still, thousands of illegal immigrants like the Mancías with no criminal history have been caught in raids, the officials acknowledge. Also, new expedited procedures have allowed agents greater flexibility to deport illegal immigrants caught in border areas, bypassing court hearings. Many immigrants, when caught, agree to leave voluntarily because it means they are not barred from returning legally in the future. Seen from the working class communities like New Bedford, the deportations are a blunt instrument. Frequently the deported immigrants were not alone in the United States, but came from families with a mix of legal and illegal members who were well settled in this country.
A growing number of deportee families have children who were born here and are United States citizens. (The Mancía’s younger son, Jeffrey, was born in Texas.) More than 3.1 million American children have at least one illegal immigrant parent, said Jeffrey S. Passel, a demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center. Mr. Mancía and his wife were among 361 workers arrested on March 6 in an immigration raid at Michael Bianco Inc., a leather goods factory in this faded manufacturing town. She remained in detention while he was released to care for their boys, Jeffrey, 2, and Kevin, 5.
On April 18, Ms. Amaya was awakened at 4 a.m., driven by immigration agents to Kennedy Airport in New York and placed on a passenger flight to Honduras, Mr. Mancía said. Telephoning her husband as soon as she could place an international call, she said little, only that she was disoriented and more afraid of her home country than an American jail. She has no house, property or job in Honduras.
“She has no words right now,” Mr. Mancía said, explaining why his wife refused to be interviewed by telephone.
Mr. Mancía has been left to fight off his own deportation and face a series of difficult choices. He must decide, he said, whether to press his case in the United States or declare defeat and take the boys to rejoin their mother in Honduras. If forced to depart, he will weigh whether to leave his sons with friends in New Bedford to get a quality of schooling he believes they will not have in Honduras. Mr. Mancía said he and his wife had decided to leave their home in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, for their safety, because criminal gangs used the streets as a combat zone. Ms. Amaya’s sister was on a public bus returning from Christmas shopping on Dec. 23, 2004, when gang gunmen shot it up, killing her and 27 other passengers, he said.
“We walked over dead bodies in Honduras,” Mr. Mancía said. “The children see that and they don’t grow up well.”
He was the first to come to the United States, crossing at night at Laredo, Texas. In January 2005 Ms. Amaya took the same route, carrying Kevin, then a toddler. Caught by the Border Patrol, she applied for political asylum and was released temporarily. After Jeffrey was born in Houston, they came to New Bedford. Her asylum petition was eventually denied.
Stitching military backpacks in the Bianco factory at $7.00 an hour, the couple achieved stability that felt almost like prosperity. They bought a white aluminum kitchen set and a microwave oven. Kevin was content in kindergarten, reciting his ABC’s and chattering in English, which neither parent speaks.
Soon they had a family cluster in New Bedford, as three other relatives from Honduras, drawn by word of jobs at Bianco, came to work there as well.
“We knew it would be hard to get legal papers,” Mr. Mancía said. “Since so many people were in the same situation, we learned to live like the rest.”
After the March 6 raid, immigration lawyers appealed Ms. Amaya’s asylum case and she became optimistic. But she remained in immigration detention in the Bristol County jail, unable to receive visits from the children.
“He is refusing to eat and needs to be coaxed to take sustenance,” Arthur Dutra, a teacher at the John Hannigan School, wrote in a March 15 letter about Kevin’s condition. “He asks for his mother repeatedly.”
A nurse at the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center, Jacqueline Arieta, wrote in a separate letter that Jeffrey was having recurring earaches and losing his appetite due to “acute sadness.”
A gaunt man with a mild voice, Mr. Mancía said he did not mind cooking for the boys or washing their clothes at the Laundromat. He said he and his wife, balancing two factory jobs, had learned they both had to do housework.
The help he has received in fighting his deportation has allowed him to believe that he might avoid his wife’s fate, even though he has no papers, no job skill to offer other than hard work and very limited legal avenues to pursue. Although Jeffrey is an American citizen, he would not be able to petition for his parents to be admitted to the country legally until he was 21.
Mr. Mancía said he was preparing for any outcome, even the prospect of a separation from one or both sons so they could remain at least temporarily in the United States.
“My son is an American,” Mr. Mancía said “He needs to be educated in American schools, to speak English. He needs this country.”
Ms. Jenks, of NumbersUSA , said the responsibility for the impact on children of the deportations rests with their parents.
“If parents are going to come here illegally, unfortunately the child faces the consequences as well,” she said.