Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘United Sdtates’

Returned to Rapists?

Gabriel –

An unthinkable ordeal: Blanca Medina was raped by five different men in El Salvador before she fled to the United States. Terrified and traumatized, she thought she’d at last found a safe haven to raise her 4-year-old daughter Alejandra (below). But now, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) wants to deport her — potentially back into the hands of her rapists, who were never arrested.

Forced back to certain danger? Blanca fears for her life — and Alejandra’s — if they have to go to El Salvador. None of the men who raped her have been arrested, including her stalker, and she’s terrified of what they’ll do if she’s sent back to El Salvador. But ICE is choosing to ignore this and other evidence.

You can help: Blanca’s lawyer Matthew Muller is appalled at how ICE has treated someone so vulnerable — she’s been refused a female case officer, and intimidated by male agents. But Matthew knows that public support has saved countless people in the past — and he’s sure that if enough people join him, ICE will be forced to reverse its decision and allow Blanca to stay in the U.S.

Click here to sign Matthew’s petition to make sure Blanca and Alejandra are allowed to stay safe in the U.S.

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More information about Matthew’s petition, in his own words:

Could you imagine suffering torture five different times, only to be told that no protection from your torturers was allowed because you missed a deadline to apply? And what if you missed the deadline because you were still recovering from the last attack?

Blanca Medina doesn’t have to imagine what that would be like. She sought safety in the United States after suffering five rapes. Because of medical complications relating to those rapes, Blanca missed a hearing to apply for protection and was ordered deported. An Immigration and Customs Enforcement team tracked Blanca down and detained her, separating her from her four-year-old daughter Alejandra.

Blanca told ICE that she and Alejandra faced severe harm if deported. She asked for permission to at least explain how she and her daughter could be persecuted. ICE used a strange procedural rule to assert that it simply did not have to listen. Under ICE rules, it is free to ignore even conclusive proof that a person would suffer slow death by torture if deported. This “willful blindness” policy could be ended through simple procedural changes by the Department of Homeland Security.

Until the procedure is fixed, Blanca (and thousands of moms like her) face deportation with no hope of finding protection from persecution or torture. Join us in asking the U.S. government to end this policy of willful blindness to torture and persecution, and allow reasonable fear interviews for all who face deportation.

Click here to sign Matthew’s petition to make sure Blanca and Alejandra are allowed to stay safe in the U.S.

From Change.org.

Immigrant Families Divided

From New America Media and Nation of Change.
by Marjorie Valbrun
30 January 2012

Foster Care, Uncertain Futures Loom for Thousands of Immigrant Children.

More than 5,000 children of immigrants are languishing in state foster care nationwide because their parents were living in the United States illegally and were detained or deported by federal immigration authorities.

These children can spend years in foster homes, and some are put up for adoption after termination of their parents’ custody rights. With neither state nor federal officials addressing the problem, thousands more are poised to enter the child welfare system every year.

“They can be dropped into the foster care system for an indefinite period of time,” says Wendy D. Cervantes, vice president for immigration and child rights policy at First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. “This causes severe long-term consequences to a child’s development. It has a negative impact on the country as a whole and a direct impact on taxpayers. The fact that these children have parents means they shouldn’t be in the system in the first place.”

A recent report by the Applied Research Center (ARC), a national racial-justice think tank, found that when immigration enforcement methods intersect with the child welfare system, consequences for immigrant families can be devastating and long-lasting.

Jailed or deported parents are prevented from reuniting with their children, and parents held in immigration detention centers are penalized for being unable to attend hearings in family court. They are also penalized for not meeting court-ordered requirements for regaining custody of their children. The requirements are impossible to meet from jail.

In addition, detained parents often aren’t aware that they can request that their children be returned upon deportation, placed with relatives in the United States, or allowed to return to their home countries. Parents unable to speak, read or write English, let alone understand complicated legal rulings, are often uninformed of their legal rights or where their children have been sent. They often don’t have lawyers to help navigate the child welfare system.

“Immigration policies and laws are based on the assumption that families will, and should, be united, whether or not parents are deported,” the ARC report states. “Similarly, child welfare policy aims to reunify families whenever possible. In practice, however, when mothers and fathers are detained and deported and their children are relegated to foster care, family separation can last for extended periods. Too often, these children lose the opportunity to ever see their parents again when a juvenile dependency court terminates parental rights.”

Encarnación Bail, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, who is in a prolonged fight to regain custody of her son, has confronted many of these obstacles.

She lost custody of her infant son, Carlos, in 2008, a year and a half after she was arrested and jailed by federal immigration authorities during a raid of the poultry plant where she worked in Cassville, Missouri. Awaiting deportation, she spent two years in federal detention, first in a local county jail in Missouri and then in a federal prison in West Virginia. During her imprisonment, relatives caring for Carlos gave the baby to a local couple who were childless.

After a county court terminated Bail’s parental rights on grounds that she had abandoned the baby, the couple adopted her son.

The court sent an official letter to Bail informing her that the couple was caring for her son, but the letter never reached her and was returned unopened to the court. When a formal adoption petition did reach her, Bail was stunned. With the assistance of a prison guard and an English-speaking visitor from Guatemala, Bail wrote back that she did not want her son put up for adoption and wanted him placed in foster care until she was released. She also requested visitation with Carlos. She never received a response from the court and she was never informed about the custody hearings.

The Guatemalan government learned of her case through news reports and intervened on her behalf, prompting the American government to put the deportation order against her on hold and grant her temporary legal status allowing her to stay and work in the United States while she continues a legal battle to regain custody of Carlos.

“I’m very sad, I very much want to be reunited with him,” Bail said through her lawyer. “I suffered an injustice. I’m the mother of Carlos and I was worried for Carlos during my entire detention. I was always thinking about him and I never gave my consent for his adoption.”

The Obama administration now says it is no longer targeting immigration enforcement activities on undocumented workers, such as Bail, and is instead focused on seeking out and deporting immigrants who have committed major crimes. However, immigrant advocates say that federal immigration agents, state law enforcement agencies and local county police departments participating in federal immigration enforcement programs do not follow that policy uniformly.

In fact, the government deported more than 46,000 parents of children with U.S. citizenship in the first half of 2011, according to the ARC report.

“It’s clearly un-American to take kids away from loving families,” says Rinku Sen, president and executive director of ARC. “It should give Americans real pause about what we’re engaged in. We need to take a very hard look at these policies and practices.”

Hispanics make up the majority of undocumented immigrants in the United States and, as a result, children of color born to parents from poor countries in Latin and Central America and the Caribbean are affected disproportionally.

What’s clear, say immigrant advocates, is that racial bias toward Latinos and other people of color play a significant role in separating children from parents and relatives.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Birthday in Rwanda

Volunteering for three weeks with a medical team and trauma specialists to provide care to children orphaned by the 1994 genocide and AIDS in Rwanda, is not a young man’s usual birthday wish on their fourteenth birthday, yet that is what Shona Blumeneau, a teenager from Santa Cruz, California experienced at ROP Center for Street Children. “It was really cool and different,” he says with a warm grin. “The people are very kind.”

Some estimates put the number of orphans in Rwanda at over a million. There have been vast improvements since the nineties, but thousands of kids are still living on the streets and many of the orphanages and youth centers that have taken in survivors (also referred to as “street rebels”) are struggling to provide basic needs, let alone education and vocational training for the children in their care.

Shona and his family held yard sales, received donations from relatives and friends across the country and had a local musician put on a piano concert to raise funds for their journey. “I worked as a referee and as a coach at a summer soccer camp,” Shona recalls. He saved half of any money he got for his birthday or holidays and put it away for his airfare to Rwanda. He says could have stayed home with friends, “but I really wanted to see Africa and make a difference.”

When he arrived in Africa and started working at ROP Center for Street Children in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, Shona found that “half the time the kids accepted me and tried to bring me into their culture and the rest of the time they wanted me to get them things or bring them home to The States.” He said they all assumed he was rich because he was from America and comparatively speaking, he is. The average daily wage in Rwanda is about one US dollar per day. “It would be hard to grow up in an orphanage and not have a family to support you,” he reflects. Every morning they returned the boys and girls would approach, grab his hands and ask if he remembered their name. They wanted to be seen, heard and reassured that they would not be forgotten. “It was awkward when I said ‘No’,” says Shona, “but I couldn’t remember everyone’s name.”

The team Shona traveled with came from throughout the U.S. and included two nurses, a psychologist, family therapist, nurse practitioner, dentist, minister, two teachers, journalist, photographer and a quilting instructor. They worked with six translators, from early morning until evening, with hundreds of children at ROP for almost three weeks. Shona assisted the nurse practitioner and dentist to give these children the first check-up they’d ever had in their lives. “At first I took pictures and then I started taking their height and weight and testing their eyes with a wall chart,” Shona proclaims. “Whitney (the nurse practitioner) taught me how to look in ears and what to look for and Jim (the dentist) showed me how to record information about teeth and gums.”

Most of the children at ROP are in their teens and adopted the young American as their brother or “inshuti” (friend in Kinyarwanda). “Everyone has a story,” says Shona, “about how their life has been since the genocide. There was one kid whose parents and siblings were killed, except for a baby sister. They were stuck on the street, taking care of the sister and eating rotten food until the director of the orphanage found them and brought them to ROP.”

His time at the orphanage was not all work and no play. “Sometimes I was just chilling with them talking, trying to communicate and understand each other. A lot of them are learning English and I picked up a few words of Kinyarwanda.” Shona’s family also brought four suitcases of donated soccer uniforms they had been collecting from parents and kids back home and provided enough outfits and balls for four teams. Shona, who has played soccer since he was four years old, would make foray’s to play with his adopted brothers and sisters on the mud and rock strewn field behind the orphanage and come back after twenty minutes dripping with sweat. “Those guys are really good!” he’d exclaim, trying to catch his breath, as he collapsed on one of the thin wooden benches used by students during class.

The words “life-changing” are often thrown around loosely in our society. To Shona Blumeneau, the words are real. “This trip has changed my life,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll ever whine about anything again.” His perspective on the privilege he enjoys in America was matched by his new found appreciation and understanding of Rwanda. “Even though there is poverty, it isn’t as bad as people describe it. Most of Africa is poor, but there is also a lot of development and hope. The kids really want to learn everything they can. I have a lot of respect for them.”

When asked if he would like to return to Rwanda, Shona, who is now a high school senior, said quickly, “Absolutely! I learned that even though I’m in another country, I still like working with kids and I can do that anywhere, even if I don’t speak their language. I think I would like to work in the medical field and I love traveling.”

You can bet your last dollar that this determined young teen from the United States will indeed make his way back to Africa, where the orphaned children of The ROP Center for Street Children will hold his hand, look him in the eye and ask, “Do you remember me?”

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