Thursday, August 2, 2007

Iris' Story

Tito Meza, my friend & comrade, is the Executive Director of Proyecto Hondureno, and housing & tenants’ rights activist for the Somerville CDC. He wants me to share this letter with you.

-Gabriel Camacho

Open Letter, 8-1-2007

Dear sisters, brothers, and friends of the immigrant community, I place this letter before you with the purpose of informing you regarding the arrest of my niece Iris Yaneth Meza and the resulting separation from her 3 year old daughter Arlette Meza.

As I had already written some of you, Iris was detained while walking on the street in the town of Burke- New York on Saturday July 28th 2007. Iris was looking for allergy medicine at the pharmacy when she was detained. I imagine that in a town of very few immigrants- her indigenous features gave her away.

After being taken into custody, she was asked where she lived, and taken to her apartment. Her apartment was searched and she was arrested along with her three year old daughter. Her daughter was immediately handed over to a DSS social worker and was quickly transferred to a foster mother- unknown to the child or the mother. The social worker notified our family and we were able to quickly mobilize to go to New York.

I am happy to say that Arlette is no longer in DSS custody- as of yesterday, July 31st, she is in our family’s home. Her mother however, continues in detention- awaiting a court date and presumably deportation.

At three years of age, Arlette does not understand what has happened with her mother. She repeats a phrase probably taught to her by her temporary guardians, “Mi mami is gone.” She repeats it frequently. Even though she is very healthy and in the loving care of our family, nobody can substitute the love and care given her by her mother day and night from the moment she was born in to this world. We are unsure of the effect this separation will have on Arlette.

The truth of the matter is that there is a continuation to this flagrant violation of children’s human rights. I can not help but ask myself: How may Arlettes are living trauma of forced separation from their parents? What do we do in the face of this generalized repression against our families? What do we do in the face of this state of terror that our families are being exposed to?

In the process of gaining custody of Arlette we went to visit the jail where her mother was detained. I spoke with my niece in the few minutes they allowed me and she said, “Uncle, please don’t let them take my daughter from me. If they deport me, I want to take her with me- if they let me, I want her to be with me. She has always been with me. She eats everything. She likes tortillas and frijoles. She only has one problem- she is allergic to mosquito bites.”

As the jail rules do not allow for physical contact I was not even able to give her a consoling hug as she cried saying, “Uncle, take care of my baby.”

Despite the fact that we were taking Arlette out of state and that her mother will face deportation, we were denied the request for mother and child to visit. There was an angry exchange between the guards and social workers- who advocated the need for Arelette to see her mother before leaving the state – to no avail. Arlette realized that something was going on and loudly stated, “Mi mami is gone!”

After as if she realized that this is where ICE had her mother detained and that she was near- she threw a huge tantrum- unable to express in words her protest to all the trauma she was being subjected to at her young age of 3 years.

She was taken from her normal world and placed in a world where everything was unfamiliar. She did not know the social workers, she did not know the foster parents who were caring for her, and she did not know us- her uncle and aunt who would assume her custody.

As we started our 5 hour journey from New York to Massachusetts, the pain of leaving my niece Iris Yaneth behind, in a prison, when she had not comitted any crime other than to have indigenous features and the abscence of a green card, was unbearable. We as adults forced back tears and anguish- and can only imagine- how Arlette felt- watching the distance grow as she sat in the car with people she did not know- knowing she was leaving her mother behind in a building with guards.

Brothers and Sisters, my reasons for sharing this letter with you goes beyond the situation affecting my niece. The reality is that like Arlette and Yaneth, there are thousands of our bothers and sisters subjected to this state of terror in the name of a law that is affecting the present, and future of our children and our families.

The United States is part of international treaties for children and human rights. The Unites Nations has passed many resolutions to protect children and human rights. Despite this, the former are the primary violators of children and human rights and the latter have become spectators of the abuses that are committed daily by immigration officials in this country.

It is time to do more! We must make our voices heard. If we continue to be quiet today, tomorrow we will be before the gas chambers, as happened in Germany.

-Tito Meza

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