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Group Highlights Broken Families in Anti-Deportation Protest

Families For Freedom protesting outside Senator Chuck Schumer's office in New York City calling for an end to deportations. Credit: Lucy Westcott/IPS

NEW YORK, Jun 16 2013 (IPS) - As the debate on immigration reform continues in the Senate and fractured talks persist about the future of 11 million undocumented migrants, one New York-based group took to the streets to ask their senator a question.

Stationed outside Senator Chuck Schumer’s office in midtown Manhattan Friday, Families For Freedom, an organisation fighting against the detention and deportation of immigrants, particularly parents, asked their leaders, “Obama, Schumer, would you deport your papa?”

The protest, held two days before Father’s Day, was meant to highlight the trauma deportation and detention causes by separating families when parents are held in facilities or sent home.

“We’re demanding that President Obama stop deporting fathers and that the fathers that have been deported are able to come back,” Esther Portillo-Gonzalez, spokesperson for Families for Freedom, told IPS.

“We have families from Africa, from the Caribbean, from Latin America mostly, and those are the continents that are most affected by these deportations,” she added.

"Everybody in this country, it doesn't matter where they come from - they're immigrants too."
-- Jeanette Martinelli

Nearly 2 million people have been deported under President Obama up to the end of last year, according to data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In 2012, Obama deported 409,849 immigrants, a record high, with 55 percent of them convicted criminals, according to ICE data.

“Many of those [who were deported] are parents and fathers, breadwinners, and a lot of the kids who are here [at the protest] today…will not be with their fathers on Father’s Day,” Portillo-Gonzales said.

The number of “criminal aliens” the United States has removed has increased dramatically over the past decade, mirroring the overall number of deported persons. According to ICE, in 2002, 71,686 criminals were deported; 10 years later, the number swelled to 225,390, an increase of 214 percent.

Marco, 23, was brought to the United States from Mexico when he was nine years old. He has felt the pain of threatened family separation but was lucky enough to see an uncle fight his deportation trial and win, letting him stay in the country instead of returning to Mexico.

“I saw my cousin suffer; she’s a little girl, she was just a newborn, and hearing that they were going to be separated…kind of broke my heart,” Marco told IPS at the protest, adding that Families for Freedom is seeking humane immigration reform.

“Ever since [I arrived], I’ve adapted to American culture. But once I [went] to college, I started realising things, especially that there’s suffering in my people, and I have to help them out,” he said.

Outside Schumer’s office, sons, daughters and a grandchild of the deported spoke through the small red cone of a makeshift megaphone, telling their stories into the shuffling rush hour throng.

One of the speakers, Alyssa, 14, is still feeling the effects of her grandfather’s removal in 2010. He is now in Panama City.

“It makes me upset, depressed, sad,” Alyssa told IPS.

Her grandmother, Jeanette Martinelli, recalled her husband’s seizure by the authorities.

“He was in a store and the cops came and started searching people and just…they picked him up. When he went to court, jurors dismissed the case, but ICE took him and that’s it,” Martinelli told IPS.

All of Martinelli’s children were born in the United States, and she is also an American citizen. The depression and trauma Alyssa has felt since her grandfather’s deportation have had wider repercussions throughout the family, Martinelli said. In addition, Martinelli’s daughter has stopped attending college because her father can no longer finance it.

A report published by Human Impact Partners on the health status of documented and undocumented migrants and their families shed light on the physical and mental tolls that detention and deportation can cause.

Higher proportions of children of undocumented parents felt fear and anxiety than those with documented parents, reporting sleeping, eating and exercising less out of fear of family separation.*

The report also said that 77 percent of undocumented parents felt feelings of racial profiling, and with less access to health insurance and medical services, they will have shorter lives and decreased health.

Around 23 percent of all deportations, or 205,000 people, from Jul. 1, 2010 to Sep. 31, 2012 were of parents with children who are U.S. citizens, according to data obtained by through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

If she could speak to ICE, Martinelli would ask officials to think not only about their own families but also the history of the United States.

“We are all human beings. They have families too. Everybody in this country, it doesn’t matter where they come from – they’re immigrants too,” she said.

The children at the protest held purple and white balloons, representing parents, including their own, who have been deported from the United States and separated from their families, before releasing them into the sky, much to their delight.

“It’s not fair that they call people illegal,” Martinelli said. “Nobody is illegal.”

*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the findings of the HIP report and said that children of undocumented parents felt higher levels of fear and anxiety than those with documented parents.

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