The children play, like yours and mine

I listened attentively as Mr. Lilo Mancia started to talk.

“It’s been one month since Immigration took my wife,” he said. “Every day is painful for the children to be without their mother. My younger son is a citizen, the other came here as a baby. We came here for a better life for our family.”

One child on his lap, the other by his side, Mancia sat among other immigrants, lawyers, advocates and news media, all gathered at the State House on April 3rd. The press conference was scheduled as a reminder that it has been about one month since federal agents raided the Michael Blanco Inc. factory in the New Bedford area and families need support.

Mancia, who hails from Honduras, was arrested during the raid but allowed to come back to take care of his two small children. His wife has pending immigration procedures, so he was picked to come back, he said. “We are not criminals,” he told the group of about 20 gathered to listen. “My wife was caught while she was working. I’m asking for peace and for my wife to be freed. My wife is detained in Dartmouth.”

Dominga spoke next. Her husband is detained in Texas. “I have two boys and one girl,” she said. “I need my husband to be released for my children. My children need their father.” She explained that she was not working, but her husband, Hector Mendez, was the bread winner for the family. “He wasn’t doing anything wrong, just working,” she said, her voice trailing off.

Santiago, the last one to speak, offered a first hand account of the detainees being held without adequate nourishment. “I’m worried about my wife,” he said. “She is pregnant and was taken two times to the infirmary. Sometimes they only give her a juice at 5 in the morning. Why treat her like this? She’s a good person, she was just working. We are asking the governor, the senators (to help us). The situation in our country is very difficult.”

Two lawyers from Greater Boston Legal Services spoke on behalf of the immigrant families. “We now know that 600 federal officers in masks and guns raided the factory at 8:30 A.M,” John Willshire-Carrera said. “As lawyers we say to the federal government: “leave the people here and return the people who were taken.”

There is a concern about the way the immigrants were removed from the state in such a hasty manner.

Lawyer Nancy Kelly, also of GBLS, said that there is a lot of talk about people being illegal but truly, there are a lot of assumptions. “What we are saying is “give them their right to due process,’” she said. “Don’t make assumptions about people.The government action in moving individuals out of the state, particularly those individuals moved after we filed a lawsuit, was illegal.”

Advocates who see up close the reality of the broken families say they have been worried about the fate of the immigrants in New Bedford, many living in fear of being arrested.

“Immigrants are being pushed back into the shadows,” said Brian Pastori, an organizer and program coordinator with the Community Economic Development Center

Pastori said all families have basic needs but at this point they have no income. The Niños Fund, which was established with the help of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, has collected about $140,000 to help families. Vouchers for food and basic needs are available for the time being.

“This is a short term solution,” Pastori said. “But many families are not accessing these benefits, they are afraid to come forward.” He also expressed concern for those without children, who have the same needs but do not qualify for the Niños Fund.

Willshire-Carrera urged everyone to be aware of the treatment given to those arrested.

“The laws for immigrants in this country are becoming very much like the laws for slaves,” he said.

Working closely with the families now living in fear, Pastori shared his personal views after the conference. “I think it’s not American for agents to enter workplaces and arrest people whose only crime is crossing the border,” he said. “We are tearing apart families and harming children. It’s not what we’ve been told America is about.”

Amidst the debate of this odd reality, the children played, like yours and mine, bringing toys to the table, unaware of the dispute at hand, their future hanging in the air, up against the need for a comprehensive immigration reform that is humane – but still so far!

Time to listen carefully to Lilo Mancia, who is one of us.

Este artigo foi originalmente publicado no jornal MetroWest Daily News, em 6 de abril de 2007.

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