Monday, November 26, 2007

Dilemma: A Mother Torn From a Baby

Mp3 of interview with reporter.

November 17, 2007

Federal immigration agents were searching a house in Ohio last month when they found a young Honduran woman nursing her baby.

The woman, SaĆ­da Umanzor, is an illegal immigrant and was taken to jail to await deportation. Her 9-month-old daughter, Brittney Bejarano, who was born in the United States and is a citizen, was put in the care of social workers.

The decision to separate a mother from her breast-feeding child drew strong denunciations from Hispanic and women’s health groups. Last week, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency rushed to issue new guidelines on the detention of nursing mothers, allowing them to be released unless they pose a national security risk.

The case exposes a recurring quandary for immigration authorities as an increasing number of American-born children of illegal immigrants become caught up in deportation operations. With the Bush administration stepping up enforcement, the immigration agency has been left scrambling to devise procedures to deal with children who, by law, do not fall under its jurisdiction because they are citizens.

“We are faced with these sorts of situations frequently, where a large number of individuals come illegally or overstay and have children in the United States,” said Kelly A. Nantel, a spokeswoman for the agency. “Unfortunately, the parents are putting their children in these difficult situations.”

Yesterday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement released new written guidelines for agents, establishing how they should treat single parents, pregnant women, nursing mothers and other immigrants with special child or family care responsibilities who are arrested in raids.

The guidelines, which codify practices in use for several months and apply mainly to larger raids, instruct agents to coordinate with federal and local health service agencies to screen immigrants who are arrested to determine if they are caring for young children or other dependents who may be at risk. The agents must consider recommendations from social workers who interview detained immigrants about whether they should be released to their families while awaiting deportation.

The new guidelines were a response to intense criticism from officials in Massachusetts about one raid, at a backpack factory in New Bedford in March. They do not specifically address the American citizen children affected by raids, whose numbers have only become clear in recent months.

About two-thirds of the children of the illegal immigrants detained in immigration raids in the past year were born in the United States, according to a study by the National Council of La Raza and the Urban Institute, groups that have pushed for gentler deportation policies for immigrant families.

Based on that finding, at least 13,000 American children have seen one or both parents deported in the past two years after round-ups in factories and neighborhoods. The figures are expected to grow. Over all, about 3.1 million American children have at least one parent who is an illegal immigrant, according to a widely accepted estimate by the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington.

Under the 14th Amendment, any child born in the United States is a citizen and cannot be deported. But with very rare exceptions, immigration law does not allow United States citizen children to confer legal status on parents who are illegal immigrants, until the children are 18 years old. While the federal government does not keep statistics on the children of deportees, immigration lawyers said that most immigrants who are deported take their children with them, even if the children are American citizens.

“Children have no rights to keep family members here because they are citizens,” said Jacqueline Bhabha, a lecturer at Harvard Law School who specializes in citizenship law. When parents face deportation, she said, the law “penalizes United States citizen children by forcing them to choose between their family and their country.”

Ms. Umanzor, 26, was arrested in her home on Maple Street in Conneaut, Ohio, on Oct. 26 and was released 11 days later on orders of Julie L. Myers, the head of the immigration agency. While in detention, Ms. Umanzor did not see her daughter Brittney, who had been fed only breast milk before her mother’s arrest. Ms. Umanzor remains under house arrest with Brittney and her two other children in Conneaut, 70 miles east of Cleveland, under an order for deportation. Her lawyer, David W. Leopold, has asked that her deportation be delayed on humanitarian grounds.

Ms. Umanzor had been at home with two of her three children, both American citizens, when the immigration agents arrived, along with a county police officer carrying a criminal warrant for a brother-in-law of Ms. Umanzor who also lived in the house.

As the agents searched, Ms. Umanzor breast-fed her jittery baby, she recalled in an interview after her release.

The baby was born in January in Oregon, where Ms. Umanzor’s husband, also Honduran and an illegal immigrant, was working in a saw mill.

Through a quick records check during the raid, the immigration agents discovered a July 2006 order of deportation for Ms. Umanzor, who had failed to appear for a court date after she was caught crossing a Texas border river illegally.

The agents detained her as a fugitive. She was forced to leave both Brittney and the other American daughter, Alexandra, who is 3, since the agents could not detain them.

“Just thinking that I was going to leave my little girl, I began to feel sick,” Ms. Umanzor said of the baby. “I had a pain in my heart.”

Ms. Umanzor turned over her daughters to social workers from the Ashtabula County Children Services Board, who had been summoned by the immigration authorities. In all, the social workers took in six children who lived in the Maple Street house, including Ms. Umanzor’s oldest child, a son born in Honduras. They also included three children of Ms. Umanzor’s sister, an illegal immigrant who was at work that day. Four of the children were born in the United States.

In jail and with her nursing abruptly halted, Ms. Umanzor’s breasts become painfully engorged. With the help of Veronica Dahlberg, director of a Hispanic women’s group in Ashtabula County, a breast pump was delivered on her third day in jail. Brittney, meanwhile, did not eat for three days, refusing to take formula from a bottle, Ms. Dahlberg said.

After four days, the county released all six children to Ms. Umanzor’s sister, who managed to wean Brittney to a bottle.

On Nov. 7, after two dozen women’s health advocates and researchers sent a letter protesting Ms. Umanzor’s detention, Ms. Myers issued a memorandum instructing field officers “to exercise discretion” during arrests by releasing nursing mothers from detention unless they presented a national security or public safety risk.

In cases where the breast-feeding children were United States citizens and entitled to public services, Ms. Myers urged the officers to seek assistance from social agencies to “maintain the unity of the mother and child.”

In their study, released this month, La Raza, a national Hispanic organization, and the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, examined three factory raids in the past year, in Greeley, Colo.; Grand Island, Neb.; and New Bedford. A total of 912 adults arrested in the raids had 506 children among them, three-quarters of whom were under 10 years old. About 340 of those children were born in the United States.

The study found that the children faced economic hardship after one or both of their bread-winning parents were detained or deported. Many families hid for days or longer in their homes, sometimes retreating to basements, the study reported. Although many children showed symptoms of emotional distress, family members were reluctant to seek public assistance for them, even if the children were citizens, fearing new arrests of relatives who were illegal immigrants.

Groups advocating curbs on immigration say that children of illegal immigrants cannot be spared the consequences of their parents’ legal violations just because they are American citizens.

“Children are not human shields,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “Nobody wants to hurt anybody’s kids. But any time parents break the law, it has an impact on their children.”

Joseph Hammell, a lawyer from the Minnesota firm of Dorsey & Whitney who is conducting a separate legal survey of recent raids for the Urban Institute, noted that the authorities were guided by immigration law, which includes few of the protections for citizen children that are basic in family and criminal courts.

“In the context of immigration and deportation proceedings,” Mr. Hammell said, “we are completely out of step with our societal values of protecting the best interests of our children.”

Ms. Nantel, the immigration agency spokeswoman, said the primary responsibility for the plight of the American children of illegal immigrants rests with parents who violated the law. “It’s a challenging situation” for the agency, Ms. Nantel said. “It’s unfortunate that children are impacted negatively by the decisions of their parents.”

Look at the this interactive map: TO SEE MAP CLICK HERE

Why would immigrants risk being separated from their families and come to America?


Manpreet Kaur said...

Immigrants risk their being seprated from their families so that they can have a better life. They seprate themselves to earn money in a foreign nation,to help their family back home.
When a child is born in America, and then the parents think the government will make them a citizen of America like their child born in America. But, that's
not how it turns out.

Anonymous said...

Immigrants risk being separated from their families and come to America only because of having a better future. A future to be optimistic about instead of being pessimistic. Many immigrants come to America to have bright futures for their kids. Some even have kids in America so their kids can be citizens. In the article, i feel that if the mother did not harm her child nor harm anyone else, then why would this be a problem? We are suppose to have freedom in this country, and that is why many people come to America and leave their loved ones back at home.

-Anta R.

Anonymous said...

I felt that it wasn't right for them to take away Saida's baby. She is an immigrant and all, but why must there be the need of taking away her loved one? It's heartbreaking. It would be better if they took both of them away, so at least the mother and the daughter would have each other.

Anonymous said...

J Dilan

When immigrants are outside looking in they are seeing what they could have if the were to be there. They basically would do anything to start a new life in the new country. They will even risk there life to try to get into the country. They probably tell their families that when the get every thing going that the will get someone to get them into the country so they can be together. We usually can’t tell who are illegal but they do the hard working jobs that most Americans wont do.

Octavia ramos said...

Immigrant as manpreet said risks being seperated from their families by coming to America sothey could have a better life for theor family, maybe their conditoins at another country wasnt safe and they had to move because they didnt want there families to live or go through what they went through. Even though I think when they come to america ther'e not much they can do without being a citizen because they live in fear of being deported back to their country. If the children are born here they become citizens and have to choose whether to be deprted eith their family or stay im the states under social service care and could only try to get their parents back at age 21. Now is that a kind of life you would want to have risking to comine to the United States to only get sent back?

Vickie said...

I agree with everyone that it is sad that Saida Umanzor's baby was taken away from her, but she knew that this could happen being an umdocumented immigrant in this country. The article states that “Children are not human shields,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “Nobody wants to hurt anybody’s kids. But any time parents break the law, it has an impact on their children. I agree with this, women who give birth to children in our prisons are not allowed to leave because they have to raise their children, they made a mistake that their children are suffering for it.
We talked in class that now state and city law enforcement agencies are supposed to be enforcing the deportation of the undocumented. It is the federal government's job to stop illegal immigration from happening. The state and city law enforcement have other things to worry about like protecting us, they can't spend their time tracking undocumented people and not criminals. When people are afraid to report fires because they are fearing deportation our country has gone to far. Although I don't think we should grant all illegals amnesty I think the government should be more concerned with deporting people who are causing harm to our country and not those who have come to work and are doing our menial labor.

Anonymous said...

I basically agree with everyone. Immigrants leave everything behind just to come to America to have a better life and future so they can support themselves and their loved ones back home. They Risk everything and give up everything to come here. They start a whole new life all over again when they come to America. In the article, the baby should'nt be taken away from the mother because that's just wrong. If the mother never did any harm to anyone, there shouldn't be a problem.
-Simran Kaur

Anonymous said...

Courteney Richardson

.. When foriengers come into america , they believe of the good life. as examples we made in class , you see movies and see how the actors are living luxurious. but in the real life nothing is so sweet.. or what is sweet shall turn sour. for you to leave your naitive home and family behind to come to america to live secretly , and undercover , they might as well stayed in their country. coming into america is not easy cause of the heavy process that will be placed on your shoulders. nothing is worst then leaving your family behind but is it really worth it?

tobin v. said...

Immigrants come to the U.S. knowing that it is a better than where they came from. They risk whatever it takes to come to this land. Immigrants risk their lives being separated from their families so that they can have a better life. I agree with what Justin said about how immigrants come by themselves here but later on bring rest of their family so they can be together. But mainly immigrants come to the U.S. to have better lives for them and their family.

kemi ajirotutu said...

Wow every basically said it all I agree with all of them. But it would be better if they can come up with a better solution on how the immigrants can stay. Especially when they’re the ones helping America grows. And if the illegal immigrant has been here so long they should let them stay and help them get there papers to make them citizens. I thing there being a little to hush to them especial to the mother and the baby they should have kept her on house arrest or something.

Sorybel said...

I agree with everyone and their opinions. Basically immigrants do risk themselves for a better future. But sometimes it doesnt turn out to be good. Some families seperate and leave half in their countries to come to America and also have kids in the U.S.A so they can be citizens. But mainly im totally agreeing because it was wrong taken the baby away. I also dont understand how the government is so unselfish and dont help all the undocumented because they work hard and there out there taking risks looking for jobs, eventhough americans are so ------- lazy having the opportunities in life....Its a shame. Im with Vickie 100% on tbat one.

Samantha Ross said...

I agree with vickie it is sad how Saida and her baby were separated, but she knew the consequences. It is a shame the way they separated the two. I think immigrants have been lied too. When they are in their home countries the see the media that portrays the United States as a wonderful country and showing them that they could get anything they want. And don't get me wrong cause it is not like the United States is not like that, but only to citizens. Immigrants risk their lives and at times they risk their families too. They think they are coming to get a better life, but when they get here they are forced to become invisible so they won't get deported. It is understandable how the United States don't benefit from the immigrants, but they need to find a new way to deal with them. Yes it's know when the immigrants encounter a law official they get reported. But how is it possible that they get treated like criminals. They didn't commit any crime while their stay in the United States. Will it ever be possible that immigrants can stay in the United States and not get deported?

Courtney Wilson said...

I agree with Samantha. Saida should have known the consequences. But, in her mind, the consequences really wouldn't matter. She did this so that her child can have a better life than the one she was set to lead in her native country. When an immigrant leaves their country for America, its never about what might or might not happen, but what they dreamed would happen.

Kristen Fitz said...

I agree with every one they should not have taken the baby from the mother they should have kept them together but seprit from the other people being held there.

manpreet kaur said...

Ms. Nantel said. “It’s unfortunate that children are impacted negatively by the decisions of their parents.”Why does the agency see only a negative impact being placed on the children? How does a presapatory, and judicary person help in this issue(other than activisting)?

Bryan S. said...

I basically agree with everyone also. I feel that immigrants are all at risk coming to america. Immigrants look at the U.S and think coming here their lives and their children's lives would be better. I don't think many understand the risks probably. I don't feel it was right for the baby to had been separated from its mother. For three days they were separated. The only question I have is "what type of future do they see in the U.S that they don't see in their country and is it worth being deported?"
Bryan S.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of the previous comments When it comes to " america appearing to be something that its not". Families would risk what they have to come for one simple reason. To live what they believe is the American Dream. We over make movies telivision sitcomes and write books to almost make our sountry seem like a fantasy land compared to others. Foreigners almost have no choice to come over here when they see what we advertise , only to later on find out that thier struggle to get here is only half the hardship once they get here.


Alyssa Faller said...

I think that when it comes down to a topic like this, i think many people in our government class, as well as most American citizens would truly feel bad for what happened to Saida and her baby. It is truly sad to think that the United States has to make a point on immigration and how wrong it is, by taking this new born child away from her mother. I think that when it comes to the case of being in immigrant i can go either way. I don't think that a citizen of the United States would do the low paying and dirty jobs that many immigrants are just so grateful to have. But then again, they are using our tax money for many benefits that they probably didn't even have in the country that they came from. But i think that as moral human beings, we need to draw the line somewhere. And i think that the government really showed their true colors when they took this poor infant out of the care of her mother. Do you think that the events that took place, could have opened up the people's eyes on immigration?

M. Harmon said...

It seems that almost everyone who posted before me feels the same way about why immigrants risk being seperated from their families to come to America. They come for a better life. I agree with Tobin and Justin. I feel many immigrants leave their families just to get settled somewhere in our country, and then they bring their family with them. I agree with everyone who said that it was upsetting for Saida Umanzor to lose her baby, but like Vickie said she knew something like this could happen if she was found out. Honestly I dont know what a solution to this problem because while the illegal immigrants are here illegally, they also came for a reason. Is it right to send them back to a place where they are not happy?

Anonymous said...

I agree w. Jonathan Blount 100% because he stated that we make it seem like our country is something that its not , as if its " untouchable ". I feel that immigrants think that they can come here in a sense that they'll be free an have a chance to start a better life so their willing to risk everything even if that means leaving their family behind. How long do these immigrants think their going to be happy until their plan comes to an end ?

Durkhanai A said...

I dont think that it was right for them to take the baby away from the mother who wasnt a citizen and give it to someone else that also was not a citizen. If they want to know what is right for the baby dont you think that is the mothers choice? Immagrants come to America thinking that they will have better futures here for themselves and their children. Tiffany is right if they want to take the mother away then the mother should have the right to take her back to their country so that they will have each other.

Anonymous said...

The shouldn't be able to take Saida's baby from her. The baby belongs with her no matter where the mother ends up. Dont we have a right for freedom so why are the doing this to her. Even if the child stayed in America and stayed till they were 21, they wouldnt know their mom well enough to even have the desire to have a stranger come to the country for them. I realize that the child would have a better life growing up in this country, but being away from family is worse than anything. Seperating them would make both of their lives horrible. If there gonna let the baby stay then why wouldn't they just let the mother stay and raise her child even if shes an immigrant. kristal atchison

Casey B. said...

I feel that by seperating the child from its mother is cruel enough but then to not feed it is over the edge. I feel that the social sevices should have came and taken the child to his mother so she could feed her child until actions were ready to be made if they were going to take the baby away from the mother or not. People risk to come to America so they can have a better life but what they did to this lady and her child I dont think that anyone would really want to come to America and have their child starve.

Anonymous said...

Imigrants risk alot in an effort to come to amercia but can also gain just as much. America is full of opurtunity. Many jobs dont require working papers. This allows illegal immigrants to make money to send home and help support there familys. JUst as anta said immigrants risk it all for a better future for there family. IN my eyes they are not criminals. to me they are people just like us trying to support there familys.

Matthew Morrison

Alyssa Cumberbatch said...

Although immigrants come to America in search for opportunity like Matt stated, we have to understand that there is a correct way to proceed with everything. We have laws, and tests that ensure a safe living in the U.S., and the definition of putting something at risk means that its no longer ensured. When Saida put herself at risk for this "better living", she put everything at risk. Apparently including her life with her child. Its sad to know the child was torn from her mothers hands, but apparently its necessary to keep order.

-Alyssa Cumberbatch

Anonymous said...

I think the mother knew what she was doing when coming to the country illegaly, she took that risk of being seperated from her baby when she came. but she risk'd it so her baby may have a better life than she had. So she actaully won in this situation by getting her baby citizenship in the land of the free United States. All of her troubles isn't in vain.

Jamaal ADAMS