A Palo Alto family's immigration nightmare has ignited a firestorm of protest from faith-based civil-rights groups.
A coalition of religious and civil-rights groups called a noontime press conference Tuesday at First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto to voice their solidarity with the struggles of the Ramirez-Aguirre family to remain in the United States.
Supporters said the four children, who are U.S. citizens face, an uncertain and harsh future in Mexico because their parents, Pedro Ramirez and Isabel Aguirre, are being deported.
Pedro Ramirez was deported to Tijuana on Feb. 28, and Isabel Aguirre must leave the United States by Friday (April 6). Donations from Palo Alto residents have made it possible for the family, which was once threatened with separation, to fly to Mexico together.
Still unresolved are the issues that put the family in the precarious position: Whether or not they received due process of law prior to the deportation order, because an attorney the family relied on to help them get green cards did not show up in court. Repeated lapses at court hearings and meetings with immigration officials none of which the couple were informed about, led to an order for their deportation. The attorney has been disbarred for his conduct.
Faith-based groups pointed to the family's predicament as an example of injustice taking place throughout the United States, as immigration officials engage in a crackdown on illegal immigrants. A coalition of Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice, American Muslim Voice, Asian Law Alliance, Council of Churches of Santa Clara County and Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN) sponsored the packed press conference. The scores of journalists included the Associated Press, and radio and television news organizations.
Former Palo Alto Mayor Jim Burch spoke at the conference, as did Congresswoman Anna Eshoo.
"Sixty-five years ago, when I was in high school in San Mateo, my classmates were taken away to internment centers. We were motivated by fear. That's what's going on today. When we are motivated by fear, we do things that lack compassion," Burch said -- referring to Japanese internment camps during World War II.
Others protesting the deportations are demanding congressional leaders put an end to the deportations and engage in meaningful and compassionate dialogue about immigration.
"I want a temporary moratorium (on deportations) until a humane bill is passed," Gloria Nieto of Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN), said.
"How can we let this happen? ... We all breathe the same air. ... When we cry, our tears are all colorless," said, Samina Sundas of the American Muslim Voice, who spearheaded the conference.
Isabel Aguirre, who was expected at the press meeting, was unable to attend because she was in San Francisco meeting with attorneys arranged for her by Multifaith Voices and other groups. Three of her four children, Yadira, 10, Adrian, 12 and Adriana, 6, attended the press conference, speaking on their mother's behalf.
Adrian said he did not want to leave his friends and school, but he wanted to remain with his family.
Gunn High School math teacher Chris Shultz, who teaches Aguirre's oldest son, Pedro, 15, said he has seen Pedro cry many times since his father was deported.
""He is being forced to make a choice to stay here in a country he knows and loves and has hopes and dreams in, or to go to Mexico to a country he doesn't know.
"He told me he doesn't want to go. He has a life here and friends here. He decided to go because he thinks it's very important to be with his family.
"I don't think it's fair to ask any 15-year-old to make that kind of life-saving choice," Shultz said.
Father John Butcher, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of California and longtime activist in the peace and human-rights movements, said he recalled that as a young boy, he saw his father helping to dismantle the Japanese internment camps in Arizona.
As a 10-year-old, one thing stuck in his mind, he said: Not only were people forced to give up their property and professions when they were placed in the camps, but upon leaving them they were only allowed to take one suitcase filled with their belongings. The things that children treasured, such as bicycles and animals, were left behind.
"And they were forced to shoot their pets," he said.
Undocumented families today are often deported without their belongings, echoing the treatment of the Japanese, he added.
Whether Aguirre can have her case reopened because of her former attorney's mishandling remains a dim hope.
Marielena Gaona-Mendoza, Longtime Barron Park school-parent liaison who has worked closely with the Ramirez family, wept. Her head covered in a white lace veil symbolizing the protection of the church, Gaona-Mendoza said she began a hunger strike Monday evening and is taking refuge in St. Francis of Assisi Church in East Palo Alto to demonstrate her outrage at the system that is tearing families apart.
"I prayed. I cried. I talked to God. ... It is hurting the children," she said.
"I don't know how they can do it. I'm not a child and I feel like I'm not going to make it any more."
Donations to help the Ramirez family may be sent to Barron Park Elementary School, 800 Barron Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94306. Checks should be made out to Barron Park PTA and with a note on the check: "Ramirez family."