Attended by more than 2,000 people, the purpose was to draw attention to the suffering this nation's broken immigration system is causing countless United States citizens and legal permanent residents who live in fear that family members or other loved ones may be deported, or who are coping with the resulting devastation after the deportation of a family member.
This meeting was part of a national campaign, started by Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, to gather petitions containing confidential testimony from members of families torn apart by the immigration system. The Hispanic Congressional Caucus will present these petitions to President-elect Barack Obama to press him to live up to his campaign promise to initiate comprehensive immigration reform during his first year in office and to issue an executive order to end the raids that are targeting immigrant workers and their families.
I heartily support this initiative, especially after hearing some of the heart-wrenching testimony presented by several brave souls who came forward to share their stories publicly.
One account that moved me deeply was from a young woman who told of the deportation of her husband, who was in the U.S. legally until a sudden family emergency forced him to return to his native land, after which he had to reenter this country undocumented.
He was picked up and sent to the detention center in Newark. Even though she was pregnant at the time, she was always made to wait three hours to see him for five minutes. Then they transferred him to another state but wouldn't tell her where, and even refused to tell her when he would be deported. She was under so much stress and in such anguish that she ended up losing her baby as well as her husband, who won't be eligible to return to the U.S. for ten years.
As many religious leaders emphasized at the meeting, this is a moral and spiritual issue: "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder." We elected officials, community leaders and residents have a moral obligation to work together to ensure that the federal government stops the raids and reforms the immigration laws.
For we must never forget that this is a nation built by immigrants who either came here willingly looking for a brighter future or were brought in chains from Africa. Except for the individuals that are descendents of the indigenous peoples who once populated this land, we all trace our roots back to other countries. The only difference is that some of us came here earlier than others.
I believe that deportations are a national crisis because they rip apart families, destroy communities, and traumatize the most precious and most vulnerable among us: our children.
According to a report published by the Urban Institute, children of immigrants make up 22 percent of the 23.4 million children under the age of six in this country. Approximately 93 percent of these children of immigrants are citizens.
Statistics further show that mandatory deportation of legal immigrants has separated more than 1.6 million children and adults. This is totally unacceptable. It is well known that broken families often result in learning difficulties, juvenile delinquency, and other problems that rob young people of their futures.
Along with a moratorium on raids and deportations until this country's immigration dilemma is fixed, I urge Congress to pass Jose Serrano's Child Citizen Protection Act, which would restore judges' ability to consider the best interest of citizen children when deciding whether to deport their parents.
Not only would this be fair to immigrants who are the backbone of this nation, it would be in keeping with family values and good for all America.
Mathieu Eugene represents the 40th District in Brooklyn. He is the first Haitian-born person elected to the New York City Council.