Campaign underway to stop deportation of Latina mom
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa
Citizen groups are picking up the cause of an Ann Arbor mother of three, hoping to stop the deportation of Lourdes Salazar Bautista, who first came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1997.
Mrs. Bautista was detained for more than three weeks by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in July 2010. A deportation hearing was to be held Dec. 27, 2011, but she won a temporary reprieve just before the holidays. ICE officials have decided to “defer action” on her deportation order, so, at least temporarily, she can remain in the United States with her children.
Mrs. Bautista made an emotional plea for assistance in early December before Ann Arbor City Council, telling elected officials through a translator that she was only allowed to stay in the U.S. because her husband was deported. She stated ICE was out to send her back to Mexico, too, which would leave her three children—two daughters and a son, ages 7, 9 and 13 —stranded stateside.
About three dozen supporters attended that council meeting, many of them carrying protest signs. Activist groups and a community-wide coalition are seeking public awareness and the help of local leaders to prevent what they call the unnecessary breakup of a family. They have been gathering signatures on a letter sent to ICE director John Morton to halt deportation proceedings.
“In the last decade, Lourdes started her own cleaning business, purchased her own home, and paid property taxes. She has also raised a family, and has earned the respect of the Ann Arbor community through her regular participation in her children’s public school activities, and her contributions to St. Mary’s Student Parish,” the letter states.
Friends and neighbors describe her as a hard-working taxpayer who deserves better for her children. Supporters who have rallied to her cause staged a rally and prayer vigil in November at the Catholic Church where her family attends. Supporters also asked Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners to publicly commit to her cause.
Supporters also believe there is cause for concern with other Latino families in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan, simply because of the region’s proximity to the Canadian border. They maintain ICE is targeting undocumented immigrants near the border in the name of homeland security—whether they have a criminal record or not.
The Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights maintains that President Barack Obama has made it a public policy to target criminals for deportation. However, the group stated that more than half of the 400,000 immigrants deported in 2010 had no criminal record. Mrs. Bautista has no criminal record, either.
“She has been working her fingers to the bone weekdays and weekends to pay her bills and to earn enough to pay the extraordinary legal fees some of the lawyers in this case have charged,” wrote neighbor Linda Kurtz in a recent letter to the editor published in Ann Arbor.
President Obama announced last August that the federal Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) would implement a policy of “prosecutorial discretion” in cases similar to the one facing Mrs. Bautista. Under those new guidelines, the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights advocates that she is not “deemed a priority for removal by DHS and merits a favorable exercise of discretion” in its letter to the ICE director.
The group maintains it has seen more than 300 calls from immigrant families over the past four years, many of them involving detainment or deportation issues which could leave dependent children in foster care, while their parents are sent back to their native country. Almost all of those children are US-American citizens because they were born on U.S. soil.
Mrs. Bautista, like many other Latinos in this region, is the daughter of migrant farm workers.
A coalition of civil rights groups, including the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, Social Work Allies for Immigrant Rights, Dreamactivist.org, Alliance for Immigrant Rights, Migrant Immigrant Rights Advocacy, Immigrant Rights on Campus, St Francis of Assisi Parish, Michigan Immigration and Labor Law Association, St. Mary Student Parish, and others have taken up Mrs. Bautista’s cause as part of larger fight to reform the immigration and deportation system.
Those groups are part of a coalition of faith, labor, and grass-roots organizations known as Alliance for Immigrants’ Rights and Reform Michigan (AIR-Michigan). The coalition plans to get more involved in a strong immigrant movement to fight for the civil and human rights of all immigrants to live united with their families and without fear.
Meantime, federal immigration officials also have announced the creation of a toll-free telephone hot line to ensure that immigrants held by local police are informed of their rights. ICE officials stated the toll-free number (1-855-448-6903) will field questions from detainees held by state or local law-enforcement agencies “if they believe they may be U.S. citizens or victims of a crime,” according to an ICE statement.
The hot line will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by ICE personnel, with translation services available in several languages. As part of the new initiative, ICE officials plan to issue a form letter to all detainees explaining that ICE will assume their custody within 48 hours, according to the statement. Both translation services and the form will be available in Spanish.
“It also advises individuals that if ICE does not take them into custody within the 48 hours, they should contact the police agency or entity that is holding them to inquire about their release from state or local custody,” the statement said.