Deportation rips local family a part -- children left in limbo
Deported Immigrants' Kids Face Dilemma
By JULIANA BARBASSA The Associated Press Wednesday, April 4, 2007; 7:07 AM
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Twelve-year-old Adrian Ramirez huddled with his two sisters on a bench and tried to find the words to describe his feelings about their mother's pending deportation to Mexico.
"I want my family to be together," he said, wiping away tears as Yadira, 10, and Adriana, 6, stared at their shoes. "I want them to stop these laws. I don't know what life would be like in Mexico. My home is in Palo Alto."
Adrian's lament is becoming increasingly familiar as immigration officials step up efforts to seize illegal immigrants. Many of the 18,000 men and women deported under Operation Return to Sender since June were raising families _ including children born in the United States.
Adrian's father, Pedro Ramirez, who had worked at an Albertson's supermarket, was deported in February. His mother, Isabel Aguirre, was arrested and ordered deported at the same time but given a monitoring ankle bracelet and some time to make arrangements for the children and to purchase a ticket home.
In cases like this, the U.S.-born children can stay with friends or relatives, or they leave with their deported parents.
Ramirez and Aguirre had evaded deportation orders and notices to appear in court since 1997, immigration officials said. They said the couple ignored the law and consequently were arrested.
"We've been working with these people for years," said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lori Haley. "Now it's up to the parents what they want to do. They can take the children with them, or leave them with relatives or people they can entrust them to."
But the predicament of deported parents is tearing many families apart, said clergy and immigrant advocates.
"Is it really a choice? Staying in foster care, or leaving with their parents?" asked Samina F. Sundas, the founder of American Muslim Voice, which is trying to help the Ramirez family.
For the youngest Ramirez children, the choice was clear: They want to live with their parents. But they said they're sad about leaving their friends, and worried about enrolling in a school in Mexico and having to write in Spanish, which they haven't learned.
Their 15-year-old brother, Pedro, a sophomore at Gunn High School, struggled with the decision, trying to keep up with school but breaking into tears at times, said his math teacher, Chris Schulz.
"He wants to stay. He has a life, aspirations here," Schulz said. "But he's decided to go, to support his mother and his family."
A group of nearly two dozen clergy issued a statement Tuesday calling for an end to immigration sweeps. The religious leaders, from such communities as New Bedford, Mass., Greeley, Colo., and Richmond, Calif. _ all heavily impacted by Operation Return to Sender _ protested what they say is the government's disregard for immigrant families.
A raid at a small leather factory in New Bedford netted 361 undocumented workers, among them the wife of Lilo Mancia, who has been detained since March 6. Neither Mancia nor his boys, ages 2 and 5, have been able to see her since. The younger child was born in the United States.
The Mancia children miss their mother, who is awaiting immigration hearings that will determine when she'll have to return to Honduras, Mancia said in Spanish.
"I'm illegal, I can't ask. It's sad," he said. "They call her, 'mom, mom,' especially at night."
Priests who are helping the families, such as Father Richard Wilson of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in New Bedford, signed the religious leaders' statement against such raids.
"God calls on us to protect the weak, especially children," Wilson said in a statement. "Instead we are ripping apart the fabric of the community and leaving children behind."
California religious leaders who are familiar with the Ramirez family's plight agreed.
"No matter how we feel about immigration reform, leaving children abandoned and violating a person's constitutional rights are wrong," said Rev. Anna B. Lange-Soto of El Buen Pastor Episcopal Church in Redwood City.
Lange-Soto stood by Isabel Aguirre on Tuesday as she presented tickets to immigration authorities showing she will leave the country by Friday. If attorneys aren't able to find a way for her to stay, she will fly to Michoacan, Mexico, with her children. Because the couple was here illegally, they are barred from returning for 10 years.
Their children try to imagine life in Mexico.
"I don't know what that will be like," Yadira said quietly. "I don't think I remember anything from there."