By Stephanie R. Jones
A mother is arrested by Immigration and Costumes Enforcement agents because she doesn’t have proper documentation to be in the United States.
Her 3-month-old baby is left behind and placed in foster care. There are many similar stories of children being separated from their foreign-born parents. The children are American citizens but their parents, for whatever reason – financial or otherwise – are still working to attain U.S. citizenship. Most are from Mexico.
Maria Lopez invited six families to a forum at Fondren Church Tuesday evening to discuss the impact that deportation of undocumented immigrants has on children. “Only one family had the courage to show up,” said Lopez, a community advocate who works with Mexican immigrants trying to navigate the complex system of gaining citizenship in this country.
“The others said they heard police or ICE agents would be there and feared they would be arrested if they came.” The discussion centered on how deportation of parents affects children left behind and even before deportation, how children are affected knowing their parents are at risk.
The forum was organized by Matt McGue, pastor of One Church in Ridgeland, and Israel Martinez, owner of Torshel, a storm shelters business.
“We love our city, we love our state, and we ask how we can make it a better place for all people?” McGue said. “Deportation is not just an important topic for Mississippi, it is important nationally,” said Martinez.
President Trump has proposed building stronger walls to keep Mexicans from crossing the United States border via the deserts into Arizona and the Rio Grande River into Texas.
Panelists at the forum, moderated by Maggie Wade of WLBT-TV Channel 3, were Patricia Ice, legal projects director for Mississippi Immigration Rights Alliance (MIRA) and an immigration attorney; Maria Lopez, a community advocate who translates for people who are not yet fluent in English and helps immigrants understand their rights; and Juan Gonzalez, an English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor for about 150 students in the Madison County School District.
The forum drew about 75 people, including Jackson Mayor Tony Yarbor; mayoral candidate Ronnie Crudup; and Ebony Lumumba, wife of mayoral candidate Chokwe A. Lumumba, who said she was there to gain information on the issue.
Wade asked the panel what did they see as the most traumatic impact on children in the state regarding deportations of parents? The main response: “Fear.” Fear of being separated from their parents, fear of having to go to a land they know nothing of if they were born in the U.S. and having to go to Mexico with their parents; fear for their relatives.
This fear, said Gonzalez, keeps Mexican American families from becoming a part of and interacting with communities they live and work in. They don’t go to community parks, community events, even stores for food and other essentials, he said. “It forces families to keep to themselves,” said Gonzalez.
He said because many children understand the language better than their parents – due to schooling – they are more aware than their parents and they resist going to their parents with issues they have in school – such as bullying from other students because of their differences in language and life experiences.
The panel addressed media images, mostly television videos that show Mexicans crossing border walls and fences. All agreed the images are exaggerated presentations of the immigrant experience that fuel negative reactions. Gonzalez relayed his own experience of answering questions from people who assume he crossed the border by land or river. They wanted to know what it was like, when in fact, Gonzalez came to the U.S. by plane with a Visa and passport. Some assumed he would look for a manual labor job until he explained otherwise.
A video that has gone viral of a father being arrested by ICE while dropping his daughter off at school has provoked fear and outrage.
Mississippi is home to 62,889 immigrants. Of those, 85.4 percent of the children in Mississippi are U.S. citizens. Many children who are left behind end up in the state’s foster care system if they are not left with relatives or friends.
The panel shared information about what immigrant families should do to protect themselves and their children if they are visited by ICE officials. What they should and should not say, what to do if a law officer comes to their home.
Information can be found at www.yourmira.org, or by calling (601) 968-5182.
What would be of help in dealing with the immigrant situation? Lopez and Ice said it would be good for people to have conversations with their state congressmen and businessmen, many of whom employ undocumented immigrants but don’t want to let state government officials know about it.
Another forum will be held at the church June 20.
Stephanie R. Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 454-0372.