To the lyrics of African American spirituals and freedom songs like “Guide My Feet” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round,” a group made up of DREAMers, their families, clergy and other people of faith in Washington, D.C., earlier today launched the nationwide Campaign for Citizenship to call on Congress to create a road map to citizenship for the country’s 11 million aspiring Americans.
In addition to songs and prayers, the launch of the campaign included a “separated families supper table” for nine people with three empty seats marked “Deported” or “Detained.” Sitting at the table, two DREAMers shared their stories of family separation, longing and loss.
“For millions of families, the supper table is the daily reminder of loved ones who have been taken from them by our nation’s broken immigration system,” said the Rev. Richard Smith, pastor of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist in San Francisco.
Alejandra Gómez, a DREAMer and aspiring citizen from New Mexico, spoke of brothers Julio, 20, and Reymundo, 23, who were detained by local police about a year ago while collecting scrap metal to help support the family. After months in county jail and an immigration detention center and two days before President Obama issued his deferred action for childhood arrivals directive in mid-June, the brothers were deported to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Gómez said.
“It’s been two years that we don’t celebrate holidays together,” Gómez, fighting back tears, told the 60 or so people from 11 different states assembled in a hotel conference room downtown. “Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s”—this last holiday barely audible.
Gómez shared that the only person in her family who’s able to visit the two brothers south of the border is her 17-year-old sister, who was born in this country.
“My prayer for 2013 that President Obama and the Congress will create a road map to citizenship for families like mine so that families like mine can reunite,” she added.
Sitting a few seats from Alejandra, Lucas da Silva, a DREAMer from Florida, shared his family’s story next. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and brought to this country as a one-year-old, da Silva has called the United States home for the past 23 years.
One day about three years ago, his father was pulled over while driving without a valid driver’s license. He was first taken to a local jail and then, like Gómez’s brothers, to an immigration detention center where he spent 10 months. After 20 years of living, working as a pool cleaner and raising a family in this country, after two immigration attorneys and more than $10,000 in legal fees, da Silva’s father was deported to Brazil.
Da Silva said that his younger sister, who was 15 when her father was detained, would cry every evening unable to understand why she was about to lose her father.
“My family was being ripped apart before my very eyes,” da Silva said. “And there was nothing I could do to stop it.”
Last September, his father was hospitalized for a blood clot in his leg. He passed away on the operating table from a heart attack.
“I didn’t get a chance to see him again,” da Silva said, sobbing. “I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I regret not telling him I loved him before the day he passed. I miss him.”
After his father’s passing, da Silva made a promise to him:
I will not rest until this system is changed forever. I will not rest until the separation of families has stopped. I will not rest until families are allowed to bury their loved ones.
“My father died alone,” he added, “and I cannot sit idly by and let this happen to another DREAMer, to another American.”
As part of their nationwide citizenship campaign, PICO plans to mobilize communities in more than a dozen states across the country, with a focus on Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Arizona, California and New Jersey, PICO Policy Director Gordon Whitman said.
While in Washington, D.C., Whitman added, the network plans to visit 100 offices of members of Congress, from both parties and houses, as well as meet with the White House’s immigration policy group.