Now is Our Chance to Help Keep Immigrant Families TogetherPosted December 10th, 2012 by Reshma Shamasunder
What would you do if you found out your daughter had a life-threatening illness — and you had no way to pay for the treatment? Would you pack up everything, cross a border, and move to a new country, if it meant the chance to work and earn enough to save her life?
I’m a mother and I would. In a heartbeat.
A brave woman whom we’ll call “Eva” did exactly that, immigrating to the US to give her daughter with a severe medical condition a chance. Once here in California, Eva worked hard, contributed to her community, and did everything she could to build a better life for her loved ones. But she also faced a sad reality familiar to too many of us: violence at home. And even though she was the survivor of a crime, Eva had to face another sad reality: our nation doesn’t have anything that remotely resembles a common-sense immigration process. Instead, we have harmful policies that undermine our deepest values. Right now, here in California, we have a powerful opportunity to change this by advancing a bill called the TRUST Act, which would limit holding people in jail for extra time based on often baseless requests from immigration authorities.
What does this have to do with Eva’s story? Eva was arrested after a domestic dispute — as we all know, often both the survivor and the person committing the abuse are arrested in domestic violence incidents until the details can be sorted out. Even though Eva’s charges were dropped, she wasn’t allowed to leave the local jail. Instead, under a controversial deportation program misnamed “Secure” Communities or S-Comm, she was held for extra time and turned over to Immigration authorities for deportation. Eva became one of the over 400,000 people deported from this country yearly, even though she had no convictions and was in fact herself a victim of crime. She thought she could manage in her home country, but discovered there was simply no way to make enough to support her daughter’s life-saving medical care, which she urgently needed.
Again, what would you do if you were Eva? She returned to the US to support her family, and tragically fell into a relationship so abusive she feared for her life. Once again, the police were called, and she was arrested. Once again, the charges were dropped. But once again, this courageous mom found herself held for extra time in the local jail, and immigration agents came and picked her up. This time, she was trapped in detention centers far away from her home for many months.
The sad reality is, thousands of people like Eva are deported from California every month. So far, over 82,500 Californians have been deported under S-Comm, and nearly 7 in 10 of those people either had no convictions, like Eva, or minor convictions. Survivors of domestic violence aren’t the only moms hurt by this. There are now many well-known stories. Mothers working to support their children by selling tamales, like Juana Reyes from Sacramento, or ice cream, like Blanca Perez from Los Angeles, have also been swept up in deportation through S-Comm, fearing they would never see their U.S. Citizen children again. Some have chosen to take their children with them, children who have grown up here knowing only this country as home. They are strangers in their parents’ home country. For example, in Mexico,ironically, these U.S. citizen kids become undocumented themselves and face tremendous challenges in an unfamiliar land. But most of these deportations divide families, expelling parents who aspired only to work to make a better life for themselves and their kids. Does this really uphold the values we hold dear? Can’t we find a better way?
And for moms like Eva, deportation could end up being a death sentence for her daughter.
Enter the TRUST Act, a landmark bill before California legislators, which would limit holding people for extra time for deportation purposes (“ICE holds”) to only people who had serious or violent felony convictions, which is what S-Comm was supposed to focus on anyway. Governor Brown vetoed the bill last year, but pledged to champion a new version “forthwith.”
It’s time to protect moms like Eva, Blanca, and Juana. It’s time to protect moms everywhere, by ensuring the TRUST Act becomes law.
Thanks to both Eva’s attorney, who works for a non-profit legal service organization in Northern California, and Julia Mass of the ACLU of Northern California for helping to bring this important story forward. Eva is not yet ready to share her name, but she wants to share her story.