An Open Letter from Tito Meza
Iris was detained in Burke, New York on July 28, 2007. Iris was looking for allergy medicine at the pharmacy when she was detained. I imagine that in a town of very few immigrants, her indigenous features gave her away.
Her apartment was searched and she was arrested, along with her three-year-old daughter. Her daughter was immediately handed over to a DSS social worker and was quickly transferred to a foster mother -- unknown to the child or the mother. The social worker notified our family and we were able to quickly mobilize to go to New York.
I am happy to say that Arlette is no longer in DSS custody -- as of July 31, she has been in our family's home. Her mother, however, continues in detention, awaiting a court date and presumably deportation.
At three years of age, Arlette does not understand what has happened with her mother. She frequently repeats a phrase probably taught to her by her temporary guardians, "Mi mami is gone." Even though she is very healthy and in the loving care of our family, nobody can substitute the love and care given her by her mother day and night from the moment she was born into this world.
How many Arlettes are living through the trauma of forced separation from their parents? What do we do in the face of this state of terror that our families are being exposed to?
In the process of gaining custody of Arlette we went to visit the jail where her mother was detained. I spoke with my niece in the few minutes they allowed me and she said, "Uncle, please don't let them take my daughter from me. If they deport me, I want to take her with me. She has always been with me. She eats everything. She likes tortillas and frijoles. She only has one problem -- she is allergic to mosquito bites."
Despite the fact that we were taking Arlette out of state and that her mother will face deportation, we were denied the request for mother and child to visit. There was an angry exchange between the guards and social workers, who advocated the need for Arelette to see her mother before leaving the state -- to no avail. Arlette realized that something was going on and loudly stated, "Mi mami is gone!"
Afterward, as if she realized that this is where ICE had her mother detained and that she was nearby, she threw a huge tantrum, unable to express in words her protest to all the trauma she was being subjected to at her young age.
Brothers and sisters, my reasons for sharing this letter with you go beyond the situation affecting my niece. The reality is that like Arlette and Yaneth, there are thousands of our brothers and sisters subjected to this state of terror in the name of a law that is affecting the present lives and the future of our children and our families.