June 17, 2007
New York Times
By EDWIDGE DANTICAT
MY father died in May 2005, after an agonizing battle with lung disease. This is the third Father's Day that I will spend without him since we started celebrating together in 1981. That was when I moved to the United States from Haiti, after his own migration here had kept us apart for eight long years.
My father's absence, then and now, makes all the more poignant for me the predicament of the following fathers who also deserve to be remembered today.
There is the father from Honduras who was imprisoned, then deported, after a routine traffic stop in Miami. He was forced to leave behind his wife, who was also detained by immigration officials, and his 5- and 7-year-old sons, who were placed in foster care. Not understanding what had happened, the boys, when they were taken to visit their mother in jail, asked why their father had abandoned them. Realizing that the only way to reunite his family was to allow his children to be expatriated to Honduras, the father resigned himself to this, only to get caught up in a custody fight with American immigration officials who have threatened to keep the boys permanently in foster care on the premise that their parents abandoned them.
There is also the father from Panama, a cleaning contractor in his 50s, who had lived and worked in the United States for more than 19 years. One morning, he woke to the sound of loud banging on his door. He went to answer it and was greeted by armed immigration agents. His 10-year asylum case had been denied without notice. He was handcuffed and brought to jail.
There is the father from Argentina who moves his wife and children from house to house hoping to remain one step ahead of the immigration raids. And the Guatemalan, Mexican and Chinese fathers who have quietly sought sanctuary from deportation at churches across the United States.
There's the Haitian father who left for work one morning, was picked up outside his apartment and was deported before he got a chance to say goodbye to his infant daughter and his wife. There's the other Haitian father, a naturalized American citizen, whose wife was deported three weeks before her residency hearing, forcing him to place his 4-year-old son in the care of neighbors while he works every waking hour to support two households.
These families are all casualties of a Department of Homeland Security immigration crackdown cheekily titled Operation Return to Sender. The goals of the operation, begun last spring, were to increase the enforcement of immigration laws in the workplace and to catch and deport criminals. Many women and men who have no criminal records have found themselves in its cross hairs. More than 18,000 people have been deported since the operation began last year.
So while politicians debate the finer points of immigration reform, the Department of Homeland Security is already carrying out its own. Unfortunately, these actions can not only plunge families into financial decline, but sever them forever. One such case involves a father who was killed soon after he was deported to El Salvador last year.
“Something else could be done,” his 13-year-old son Junior pleaded to the New York-based advocacy group Families for Freedom, “because kids need their fathers.”
Right now the physical, emotional, financial and legal status of American-born minors like Junior can neither delay nor prevent their parents' detention or deportation. Last year, Representative José E. Serrano, a Democrat from New York, introduced a bill that would allow immigration judges to take into consideration the fates of American-born children while reviewing their parents' cases. The bill has gone nowhere, while more and more American-citizen children continue to either lose their parents or their country.
Where are our much-touted family values when it comes to these children? Today, as on any other day, they deserve to feel that they have not been abandoned —by either their parents or their country.
Edwidge Danticat is the author of the forthcoming “Brother, I'm Dying,” a memoir.
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