Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Deportation of parent leaves family on pain.
Eleven-year-old Fanta Fofana spoke barely above a whisper as she described the day immigration officers burst into her Bronx apartment and took her dad.
"I was sleeping with my sisters and my cousins," Fanta said, her eyes downcast. "The police came and took my father away from my family. I was born here and I can't believe my country would do this to me."
Fanta said she has spoken to her dad, Senegalese national Sory Fofana, 47, many times since his deportation last November. He tells her not to worry and that he'll come back soon, she said.
But after an immigration court determined that Fofana improperly overstayed his visa, in violation of a prior order to leave the country in 1998, that seems unlikely, immigration officials said.
Now, Fanta and her five younger siblings pray that their undocumented immigrant mother isn't the next to go - stripping them of both their parents.
They've been getting help from the New Sanctuary Movement (www.newsanctuarymovement.org), a local multifaith advocacy group working to keep undocumented immigrant parents and their U.S. citizen kids together.
The year-old group has 22 participating congregations across the city, including those from Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths, organizers said.
The group provides material, spiritual and legal support. It runs a food pantry and holds English classes to help immigrants get the skills needed to survive in this country, organizers said.
Advocates are also pushing to reform immigration laws to let judges consider the needs of U.S.-born children when determining the fate of undocumented parents. One such bill, the Child Citizen Protection Act, was introduced by Rep. José Serrano (D-Bronx) in February.
"We shouldn't be in the business of separating families," said Shaykh Bashir, of the House of Peace in Harlem, part of the New Sanctuary Movement. "The idea of [the children] going to foster care ... is unconscionable."
Bashir said he's not pushing for blanket amnesty. "If a person's a criminal, I don't want them here," he said.
But he believes parents working here to support their citizen children deserve some leeway.
Fanta's mother, who has lived here for more than a decade, agreed.
"I want to stay with my children. They need me. I need them," said Fatoumata, 31, who asked that only her first name be used. "There are no children who deserve to be without [their] father or mother