Families Speak in DC: Impact of Immigration Raids on Children and Families

Today the top story on the hill will certainly be the backdoor deal that Kennedy has cut with Bush. However, for those of us working for immigrant rights, and human rights across experience, the real story will be the families and leaders that have flown and driven here from Massachusetts, Colorado, Washington, California and Illinois to tell their story before a renowned panel of leaders on human and children's rights:

Marian Wright Edelman, Children's Defense Fund

Kim Gandy, National Organization of Women

Rev. Robert Edgars, National Conference of Churches USA

Hilary Shelton, NAACP

Dr. Randy Capps, Urban Institute

We have compiled their stories together into a document that will be released after the hearing, but in advance we've included excerpts of some of their stories below:

Written Statement of Norma Yahira Olivedo Mejia

Prepared for Children’s Hearing on Immigration Raids and their Impact on Children and Families: May 17, 2007

My name is Norma Mejia.  I was born and raised in the United States and am a U.S. citizen as are my two children.  I am a wife and a proud mother of two infants, Vanessa who is 2 years old and Ismael who is two months old.  My husband and the father of our children is an immigrant.  We met at a Valentine’s Day dance six years ago.  He was my first love and we married four years ago. 

On September 20, 2006, the fourth anniversary of our wedding, I received a phone call telling me that my husband was detained by I.C.E. agents in Richmond, California during a raid.  I was seven months pregnant at the time and my husband was the sole provider for myself, our 2-year old daughter, and our unborn child.

For two weeks I had no idea where my husband was.  I had to go through lawyers and bail bondsmen and when I  finally tracked him down he had been in three different jails.  He was moved from Richmond, California to Martinez and then San Francisco.  Later he was moved to Arizona...

During these last weeks of my pregnancy I had no way to pay the hospital bills.  My husband was our provider so I was forced to apply for Medi-Cal.  I came crying to friends because I was about to go into labor and no hospital would accept me and no one would return my phone calls to apply for Medi-Cal.  Finally, my friend Cecilia Jauregui helped me get enrolled, but for so long I had no idea how my child would come into this world.

Written Testimony if Shelly Heideman, Executive Director ,Elizabeth Ann Seton Program And a Member of CIOP - Central Illinois Organizing Project, Beardstown, IL

Church leaders, school officials and social service agencies have worked tirelessly to help weave the different ethnic cultures together. Our community has taken some important steps toward unity and understanding in recent years.  Sadly, the fabric of this community started to unravel on April 4, the Wednesday of Holy Week.  That’s when ICE conducted an immigration raid in Beardstown.  Sixty-two individuals were arrested, including two minors – one an honor student at Beardstown Public High School.  Since the juvenile detention center in Chicago (250 miles from Beardstown) was full, these two students were sent to a facility outside the state of Illinois.

Since the raid: - Ethnic tensions have escalated and negative feelings toward the Hispanic people have increased.  School children hear comments such as “Go back to Mexico.”  “We don’t want you here.”  - Rumors continue to fly about additional raids, creating an air of tension and mistrust.  A few weeks after the April 4 raid, a rumor of another ICE raid caused seventy people to leave their Cargill job in the middle of their shift.  Many of them have since been fired. - Although some local efforts were made to collect donated food, there is no official food pantry in Beardstown.  The community can not uphold the integrity of its members as it would like.

You will soon hear from individual families who were affected by raids in other parts of the nation, but this is a brief overview of how the 62 families from Beardstown have suffered because they have lost a full time wage earner in addition to losing a family member: - Families can no longer pay their bills and will be forced to move in with other families or leave the Beardstown area.  - A number of women, who were arrested in the raid and released on their own recognizance because of family responsibilities, said that their young children are scared, confused and sad.  The children are fearful whenever their mom leaves the house: afraid she won’t return.  Many of their children were born here and are American citizens.  Because of the ICE raids, therefore, our government is literally terrorizing its own people. - One mom, whose husband was arrested in the raid and is awaiting a court hearing in jail forty-five miles from Beardstown, is afraid to take her children to see their father.  She thinks if the police see her and her children together; the whole family will be immediately deported. - Moms have expressed these emotions:  1)Worried –“I need to find a job to support my family”. 2)Hopeless – “When I left Mexico, I left everything I owned.  I have worked hard to establish a new home in Beardstown, but if I am deported I will lose it all.  I will have no place to call home.” 3)Frightened – “What is going to happen to me?  Will I be deported, sent to jail?”  Who will care for my children if I’m deported? 4)Distressed – “I just feel like I want to cry all the time – I try to be brave around my kids, but sometimes I can’t hide what I am feeling.” 

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