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Two fathers face deportation and separation from their families

Rogelio and Maribel Melgar came to the United States from Guatemala in 1999 with their family. Their son Brayan, then aged 4, had been diagnosed with throat cancer. The Melgars brought him to the U.S., legally, in the hopes of getting him the treatment that was not available in Guatemala. Their initial six-month stay was extended repeatedly as their son’s treatment required more time. The parents couldn’t bear the thought of taking him back to Guatemala to let him die or leaving him in the U.S. while they returned. On May 5, this year, after 12 years of treatment, Brayan passed away, leaving behind his devastated parents and four siblings. Following that tragedy, just over two months later, on July 11, Brayan’s father Rogelio was arrested and is now facing deportation.

The Melgar family is in a particularly complicated situation regarding their status. The parents – Rogelio and Maribel – as well as their older son Hans (16) are all undocumented. Hans is a clear candidate for the DREAM Act. The Melgars’ three youngest children – twin girls (8) and a son (4) – are U.S. citizens by birth. Because of their son Brayan’s prolonged treatment, a family sponsored the Melgars’ stay in the U.S. and arranged for a job at a restaurant for Rogelio. When the restaurant closed in 2004, Rogelio worked as a cook at a care facility until his arrest some weeks ago.

The case of the Melgar family is not unique. There have been countless families that have been fractured as a result of a broken and unfair immigration system that simply doesn’t account for the complexities in each case. The government is denying due process and fairness to communities by enforcing laws that do not allow immigration judges to rule on a case-by-case basis. Laws passed in 1996 eliminate important legal rights that previously enabled immigrants to challenge their detention and deportation. And in a post 9/11 world, these legal rights have been reduced even more dramatically, taking away immigration judges’ ability to consider the circumstances of each individual’s case, leading to mandatory detention and deportation for many.

Over 11% of the population of the U.S is foreign-born (Census Bureau PDF), with a significant number of them being undocumented. According to data released by the Pew Hispanic Center (PDF), undocumented immigrants comprise just over 4% of the adult population of the U.S., while their children make up 8% of the total newborn population and 7% of children (defined as under the age of 18) in this country. Cases of families torn apart, coupled with the numbers demonstrates the need for comprehensive immigration reform that supports basic human rights and ensures due process and fairness for all.

In the meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to maintain that the goal of the controversial Secure Communities program is to remove dangerous criminals who don’t have legal status. However, in practice, they have consistently shown otherwise. Numerous immigrants are stopped and checked on minor allegations by local enforcement authorities and their details shared with ICE’s database. This puts these immigrants, in most cases with no criminal record or with minor traffic violations, on the fast track to deportation. And in most cases, their deportation is shattering for the families involved.

Another case of this happening is the story of Salvador Licea of Texas. Licea is a father of two young girls who has lived in Texas for most of his life. He was recently pulled over for a minor traffic violation and then arrested for having an expired license. In a case of blatant racial profiling, he was then told that he was pulled over because his age and skin color matched the description of a ‘drug lord’ or ‘gang banger.’ The authorities took his fingerprints under the jurisdiction of SComm and he is now facing deportation.

Watch the video by The Nation about Licea’s story:

Separation of families is one of the most unfortunate and unjust consequences of our broken immigration system. To learn about the story of yet another family affected by this, watch our Skype interview with Tony Wasilewski, a Polish immigrant whose wife Janina was deported four years ago.

It has now become a widely known fact that the Obama administration has deported more immigrants than the Bush administration, with numbers steadily climbing each year. However, even as President Obama has redirected his immigration efforts to deporting those immigrants who are deemed dangerous and have criminal records, ICE continues to round up people on minor charges. Furthermore, many undocumented immigrants who are trying to live an honest and hardworking life in the U.S. are in complex family situations which are not helped by blanket policies from the authorities. This applies to another set of cases where immigrants are married to U.S. citizens and still face deportation under a harsh 1996 immigration law that deems such immigrants deportable.

In the case of the Melgar family, Rogelio faced a hearing on July 19 in Provo, Utah, where him and his wife met for the first time since he was arrested. In a strange turn of events, the prosecutor, Deputy Utah County Attorney Chard Grunander, admitted that the state wasn’t ready to file charges against Melgar. The judge then released Rogelio’s $5,000 bond and told him he was free to go. However, immediately following this, Rogelio was taken back to Utah County Jail and is now being kept by ICE for a federal investigation.

Rogelio’s wife, Maribel, is still grappling with multiple blows to her family. She is trying to hold on to the memories of a time when her family was together and firmly believes staying in the U.S was the right thing to do:

If we had stayed in Guatemala, my son would’ve been dead at 6 years old…But God gave us a chance to have our son for another 12 years in this country.

It is important to work together to push for comprehensive immigration reform that won’t separate such families and will ensure dignity, respect, and due process for all. Become an ally of Restore Fairness and get involved today. For more information on the separation of families due to deportation and what you can do, go to familiesforfreedom.org

Photo courtesy of Families for Freedom

Obama, pay attention to immigration reform as day 14 of immigration fast leads 3 fasters to ER

At a packed church in New York city on a cold wintry afternoon, hundreds of supporters shouted Si Se Puede! Yes we can! as New York’s immigrant communities, labor unions, faith leaders, business owners, elected officials and allies came together in solidarity with hundreds of groups across the country, renewing the call for 2010 to be THE YEAR to achieve just and humane immigration reform.

The rally comes together as actions across the country, from fasts to walks to civil disobedience acts, create mounting pressure for human rights and justice in the immigration system.

Fast for Our Families (Homestead, FL)

Since New Year’s Day, half a dozen immigrant rights activists, community leaders and affected family members have initiated an indefinite fast, vowing to take only liquids, until President Obama and the Administration agree to suspend the deportation of immigrants with American families until Congress acts to fix the broken immigration system. Today, on day 14, three fasters have been rushed to the emergency room after experiencing serious health concerns. Here’s an excerpt from their blog,

The doctor is here. Three fasters are going to the hospital. Francisco may have had a heart attack – the after symptoms point that way. He needs tests. He quietly asked me if he could come back to the fast after they do the tests. “I won’t let them give me food and I can come back, right?” It broke my heart.

Jonathan says he feels fine but the doctor insists that he go to the hospital as well. He has shortness of breath and an issue with his electrolytes that could point to something more serious. He’s determined to come back.

The doctor is recommending that Jenny and Ana go to the hospital as well. Jenny’s pulse and blood pressure are very low. Ana’s sugar is dangerously low. They pressure the doctor. “It’s my baby. It’s my life. You have to understand,” Jenny is declaring. I have tears in my eyes. The fast could cost her life and leaving her children could cost her life. How does one even begin to fathom that choice? How does it even come to that?

Send a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano demanding a stop to separation of families.

Campaign to free Jean Montrevil from immigration custody and stop his deportation (New York, NY)

Jean Montrevil, an activist, leader and family man is currently in immigration custody, awaiting deportation to Haiti, for a crime he committed 20 years ago for which he paid his time. Today’s rally outside Varick Detention Center showed a growing amount of support and anger at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s unjust actions.

Send an email to Department of Homeland Security urging for his immediate release.

Trail of Dreams (Miami to Washington, D.C.)

On January 1, 2010, a group of brave and passionate students from Florida’s Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER) embarked on a 4-month long journey from Miami’s Freedom Tower to the United States Capitol in Washington D.C., where they will join with thousands in a mass rally demanding urgently needed changes to immigration laws and policies on May 1st, 2010.

Find out how you can help and support the Trail of Dreams.

National Day of Action Against Sheriff Arpaio – Saturday, January 16th (Phoenix, AZ)

Join NDLON, Puente, and other immigrants’ rights groups in denouncing egregious abuses perpetrated against immigrants and people of color by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and demanding an end to 287(g), Secure Communities, and other forms of local police collaboration with immigration authorities that severely undermine public safety and the community’s trust to report crimes to police. Just today, an advertisement appears in today’s edition of The Arizona Republic newspaper where sixty black leaders have come together to condemn Sheriff Arpaio.

Here’s more info on how you can support the movement against Arpaio.

In the midst of the demand for reform, we wish to remember those in Haiti and offer our support and prayers for them.

UPDATE: “On this day, January 17, we have decided to end our fast. After watching the suffering of our Haitian brothers and sisters, and seeing the determination of the Department of Homeland Security to ignore the voices of immigrant families fighting to stay together, we must continue our struggle in a different way, but the Fast for Our Families will not end.”

UPDATE: As of January 25th, 2009, Jean Montrevil was released from detention. The fight continues to end the threat of deportation, but he is back home with his family and community members in New York City.

How many hunger strikes will it take?

Jeanfamily From a letter of testimony by Christina Fernandez, a wife of a detainee held at the Reeves County Detention facility:

Are they asking for a massacre?  Or do they think that we the wives, children, parents, siblings and family members of these men will sit back and wait until we receive body-bags, because they didn’t do their job as officers of the law and staff members of the Federal Bureau of Prisons?

My husband is over 500 miles away from his home address (so are many of the other Cuban prisoners) and in a facility that is not for him.  He is a resident of the United States and though he is of Cuban nationality, he is not deportable.  I am a born US Citizen and so are our three daughters,  we have not seen my husband, their father, since January 2009…Something must be done for my husband and the other Cuban men, so that neither I, nor any of the other families receive a phone call of bad news. I want my husband returned to me and our daughters in one piece and alive.

The atrocious conditions and lack of medical care at Reeves have already led to two large scale riots by prisoners following the death of an epileptic detainee, as well as numerous protests, vigils and marches organized by activists and human rights groups. With no answer to the detainees and their families and no action from the Bureau of Prisons, Manuel Joan Friere Alfonso and Jorge A. Fernandez, along with 16 other Cuban nationals that are being held at the detention facility, are threatening to go on another hunger strike if they do not receive immediate redress for their grievances.

This comes close on the heels of the five individuals in Homestead, Florida who began the New Year with their pledge to Fast for Our Families. Jon Fried, Jenny Aguilar and Wilfredo Mendoza are some of the individuals who have vowed to consume only liquids until the President and the Department of Homeland Security respond to the demands of all those families that have been torn apart by detention and deportation. In a letter they wrote to President Obama six days after they began their fast, they expressed that:

The situation in which immigrants live and the hurt that the people we represent are enduring has forced us to take drastic action…we understand the risks we confront and we will not deny the fact that we are scared, but we cannot just sit and wait for Immigration Reform. Every day that goes by, dozens of families are destroyed. Every day that passes, hundreds of children are separated from their parents and thousands of young students are in detention instead of in college…Mr. President, please put yourself in our shoes and just imagine for a minute what it would be like to be separated from your beautiful daughters just because you were born in a different latitude.

Then, on January 5th 2010, the Fast for Our Families campaign received national attention when Jean Montrevil, a Haitian immigrant leader who was detained on December 30th during a routine check-in with ICE, began his own fast in prison, joining his efforts with the fasters in Florida. Since then over 1,000 petitioners and 50 organizations have come together to demand Jean’s release.

Jean entered the U.S. on a green card, as a legal permanent resident, in 1986. Three years later, at the age of 19, he was convicted of selling cocaine and served 11 years in prison for his crime. He is now 41 years old, is married to a U.S. citizen, Jani Montrevil, and is a father to four American-born children. Moreover, he has since stayed out of trouble, started a van service to support his family and become a community leader; he is an immigrant rights activist with the New Sanctuary Coalition and Families for Freedom.

On December 30th, Jean made his check-in with ICE in New York, which he has done every month since he was released from prison, and was unexpectedly arrested and transported to a Pennsylvania prison. According to immigration laws passed in 1996, any immigrant convicted of a felony, even if retroactive, can face deportation, but ICE has not released any statements as to why he was arrested this time. Jean is on a hunger strike, refusing to eat food until the government reforms laws on deportation practices that “destroy families.”

Support for Jean’s release is growing after a rally of over a hundred people protested for the reform of these draconian immigration laws outside the Varick Street Immigrant Detention Center in New York on Tuesday, January 5th. Amongst the protesters were 8 clergy and 2 community members who were arrested for blocking traffic to prevent the transport of more immigrant detainees. Rev. Donna Schaper of Judson Memorial Church, who knows Montrevil well, stated:

I am being arrested because it is a moral outrage that our government would do this to such a great man and father. These immigration laws that destroy families contradict the values we should uphold as a society. They need to change now.

Jani Montrevil showed support for her husband’s decision to join the fasters in Florida and said of their common goal, “We will fight together!” And Jon Fried, who has almost completed a week of his fast was excited to hear the news. “It is great to know that this movement to keep our families together is spreading across the country, he said. All across the country, solidarity actions for Fast for Our Families are being planned, with groups in Texas and New Hampshire organizing efforts to join in support over the next week. 

We despair that such drastic, physical measures are required to ensure that families are reunited and future families are spared the horror of losing loved ones, and can only hope that these measures bear fruit before it is too late.

Please sign the petition to the President and the Senate demanding Jean’s release by clicking here.  If you represent an organization that would like to show support for Jean, sign on here.

Find more information about Jean Montrevil’s case here.

Photo courtesy of www.newsanctuarynyc.wordpress.com

UPDATE: As of January 25th, 2009, Jean Montrevil was released from detention. The fight continues to end the threat of deportation, but he is back home with his family and community members in New York City.