[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ince August, after the news a deportation order against her was suspended, Beatriz Santiago Ramirez has been sheltered in a church.
“I feel good, relieved not to fear anything. Previously, if I cried it was because I was sad, and this time it was of joy,” said Ramirez.
The undocumented mother, 32, an expatriate of Veracruz, Mexico as of 11 years ago, sought refuge with her two children, both U.S. citizens ages nine months and 3-years-old, after being notified of an impending deportation. The three found shelter at the Mission of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Little Village neighborhood, where they have lived since Aug. 12.
“When an immigrant is desperate and struggling to stay here with his family and facing a desperate situation, I feel an obligation to help out,” said Rev. José S. Landaverde, founder of the church and an activist and advocate for immigrants.
“The hardest thing was not to know when this was going to be fixed,” says Ramirez, who in 2009 suffered from sexual abuse and cooperated with authorities to determine the whereabouts of the culprit.
The deportation of Ramirez was ordered in February 2010. At the time, she already had a pending application for a U, or humanitarian visa, for being a victim of a rape. But she was denied because of a technical failure of the Madison County prosecutor.
Furthermore, she claims that she never received a notice to appear in court. Her lawyer defends her stance.
“Beatriz was the victim of a terrible crime. She is a candidate for a U visa,” said her lawyer, Juan Soliz. “The basis for reopening the case was that she did not receive adequate notice. In addition, the judge found that there was a pending application for a U visa as a victim of a crime of sexual abuse.”
It was not until Nov. 1, that Ramirez and her children left the church for the first time after receiving the news that The Executive Office for Immigration Review decided to re-open her case and withdraw the deportation order.
“This case has been a victory. It sets a national precedent that we can win the other cases that are declared in sanctuaries. In the church, we have an obligation to declare it as a sanctuary, “explains Landaverde.
He, like many clerics nationwide, open their doors to all in an action known as the Sanctuary Movement, which is a network of churches and organizations that house undocumented immigrants facing deportation.
For now, Ramirez will remain in the church with her children, with continued external support from the children’s father who provides them with food and helps with cleaning clothes.
The first achievement was to cease the deportation case. The next step depends on the outcome of the current petition by her lawyer. When she is finally granted a U visa, she can get a work permit and temporary residence to stay with her family.
“Going out to look for a job, that’s the first thing,” said Ramirez regarding the possible approval of a U visa.
Ramirez will attend court on Jan. 13, 2015, coinciding with the first birthday of her daughter.
“It has felt eternal because for four years they have been telling me that they are helping me. But now that I changed lawyers, I have more hope,” she concluded.
Hope for immigration reform
Figures from the Pew Hispanic Center indicate that currently there are about 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country. The Migration Policy Institute reports that in 2012, 419,384 people were deported, coinciding with the figures provided by the Department of Homeland Security.
It is not known exactly how many people are in deportation proceedings, but it is known that the mass deportations and family separations are a constant in the United States.
With the recent development that swept the nation—the Republicans taking control of Congress during the Nov. 4 midterm elections—it is unclear what will become of the immigration reform supported by a majority of Democrats.
“Before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take, that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system,” said President Barack Obama said the day after the midterms.
While he says he’ll resort to an executive action to pass reform if congress doesn’t act, the president has also said he would prefer Republicans to work with his party towards reform.
“You send me a bill that I can sign, and those executive actions go away,” said Obama.
Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have called the president’s implied threat of executive action “executive amnesty” and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), said Obama’s threat was akin to “waving a red flag in front of a bull.”
“I hope that the community will enter into dialogue with Republicans and it will result in a moratorium on deportations,” said Landaverde.
This post is also available in: Spanish