2.15.2007

The Heart Breaking Story of Leticia Alonso-Silva and America's Domestic War Against Immigrant Moms, Dads and Children

This story about Leticia Alonso-Silva has hit me like a ton of bricks.

How can we in America allow our country to regress to such a point that we now spend millions and millions of taxpayers dollars to terrorize people like Leticia?

The government has set-up prisons for men, women and children. We read about the raids and know that whole families--but sometimes just the moms as in Leticia's case--are being gathered up and disappeared by the government.

The heartlessness and immorality is stunning! And I am outraged!

I want Americans and nonAmericans alike to know that the ugliness that the world has seen from America as of late, her seeming inability to discern friend from foe, and her War-first response to "third-world" conflicts, is being matched by the cruel treatment domestically of her immigrant families and "unauthorized" workers.

I included the full story below because everybody should know what's going on.

Va. Mother Becomes Symbol on Immigration

By Pamela Constable and N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 15, 2007

Immigrant and Hispanic advocates in Washington yesterday asked for a moratorium on deportations, saying that a nationwide crackdown on illegal immigrants has led to unfairly swift deportations and the confinement of thousands of men, women and children in federal detention centers far from their families and lawyers.

The groups highlighted the case of Leticia Alonso-Silva, 27, a Mexican-born resident of Culpeper, Va., and a mother of two, who was arrested last month by immigration officials on the basis of a deportation order from 1999, when she entered the United States illegally to work as a farmhand. Soon after her arrest, she was sent to a federal detention camp in Texas to await deportation.

"We have two little girls, and they need their mother," Fernando Chavez, 29, her husband, told a news conference in Washington, speaking in Spanish. "We live in Virginia, and they have moved her far away to Texas. I am asking the authorities to please stop the deportation of my wife and let her have a day in court so she can prove she is innocent."

Within hours of his plea yesterday morning, authorities at the immigration detention camp in Raymondville, Tex., notified Alonso-Silva's attorney that they planned to deport her to Mexico immediately, even though several court appeals had been filed since her arrest, according to the attorney, Douglas Wachholz of Falls Church.

Immigration officials said yesterday that they could not discuss an individual case, but they said they make every effort to ensure that detainees have access to lawyers and courts. They said that their chief obligation is to enforce immigration law, however, and that it would not be feasible to place a moratorium on deportations.

"The immigration process is fair anywhere in the United States," said Gary Mead, assistant director for detention and removal operations at the national Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Washington. No matter where immigrants are detained, he said, they have access to legal representation, consulates and health care. "Their rights are equally protected."

According to court documents, Alonso-Silva was issued a final deportation order in 1999 although she never appeared in court. Immigration officials say a court notice was sent to her at a post office box in North Carolina, but she denied receiving it or even knowing she was in trouble. She applied to become a legal resident last year and was scheduled for a hearing at a government office in Fairfax on Jan. 17; when she arrived, she was instead arrested and taken to jail.

Immigration lawyers and advocates, who had news conferences in several cities yesterday, said many similar situations have resulted from a nationwide effort by immigration officials to track down and deport as many illegal immigrants as possible, including those who may have legal spouses and children, no known criminal history or pending applications to become legal residents.

More than 26,000 immigrants are being held in detention facilities nationwide, a record number that follows federal raids on workplaces over the past six months, as well as several changes in federal policy. Last year, authorities ended the longtime practice of releasing illegal immigrants caught at the border, and they also began detaining and deporting people who had been in the United States illegally for years.

Mead confirmed that law enforcement and detention of illegal immigrants have been stepped up but described the process as more efficient rather than hasty. He stressed that officials are still most concerned about violent or fugitive immigrants, but added that "if we encounter someone who is here illegally, we're not going to let them go just because they weren't the target of an investigation."

Advocates complained that in many cases, detainees facing deportation are sent to federal facilities such as Raymondville, thousands of miles from relatives, lawyers and regional immigration courts that would normally handle their petitions. Detainees often have limited access to telephones or money to make calls, advocates said.

"Immigration detention is like a black hole," said Brittney Nystrom, a project director at the Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition. "You may not know where you are, how long you'll be there, or why." As a result of the new crackdown, she said, "people's pasts are catching up with them after years of thinking no one cared. It feels like there is a new, harder approach, but it might just be better technology."

When Alonso-Silva's past caught up with her, she had built a life in Culpeper with Chavez and their two daughters, ages 7 and 2. Chavez, a legal U.S. resident and supervisor at Battlefield Farms in Rapidan, Va., was such a valued employee that its owner, Jerry van Hoven, wrote the court pleading that Alonso-Silva be allowed to remain in the United States. His letter described the family's "life-long connections" to the community and said her deportation would have a "devastating impact" on the family.

Meanwhile, Wachholz said he had filed a flurry of petitions to immigration courts in Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio and Virginia, seeking to suspend Alonso-Silva's deportation and reopen her case. Two courts swiftly denied both petitions without a hearing, he said, while Alonso-Silva was shifted among Virginia jails. Then she vanished, and her family did not know she had been flown to Texas until she called last weekend from Raymondville, depressed and nearly hysterical.

"She was crying and crying. She said: 'My daughters need me. I have to get out of here,' " Chavez said in an interview Monday. He said his wife had begged the authorities to send her either home to Virginia or back to Mexico. Yesterday, she apparently got one of those wishes.