First person: Fernanda* as told to Sarah Birkebak.
Nothing like this had ever happened to me before, I thought, as seven armed immigration officials entered my home and put my hands behind my back. It was 9:00 at night when they came into my house with their large guns.
They took my oldest son who was sleeping in the next room. We tried to explain that we hadn’t done anything wrong, but they wouldn’t listen. They just told us to be quiet and forced us to get on the bus. My 10 year old daughter was crying as they took us away and I worried what would happen to my family.
I came to the U.S. from Guatemala to escape the violence of my life there. My father was killed by guerrillas and I married my husband so that I would have protection. He was abusive to me and it was an impossible life.
I knew I had to look for a place of refuge for myself and my children, so we followed my husband to the U.S. At first I didn’t speak English or Spanish, only the Mayan dialect I spoke in Guatemala. My husband promised he would be a good father but it was a lie. We were stuck in a cycle of violence.
My oldest son is still in detention and my other son who is 19 was deported to Guatemala last year. I worry for my children that they will be like strangers when they are deported, that they will be persecuted because they will not know the language. It is dangerous for them in Guatemala; they will not have work or family to take care of them.
In the U.S. we found a church and they became like a family to me. While I was in detention my pastor took care of my children and introduced me to Gloria, a worker with the MCC West Coast Office which supports immigrant families in finding paths to citizenship.
Gloria helped me prove that I was a victim of domestic violence and I was released from detention after three months. I am still under supervision and have to report every month to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Gloria is helping me to get permission to work, but we are still waiting for results.
As immigrants we need the help of President Obama and the people of the United States. We need to have freedom to make a life for ourselves and our families in this country. Families should never be separated with children being left to suffer without their parents.
I am not a criminal; I am a mother who is fighting for her children to give them a future. I feel like my heart is broken in two pieces because my children are separated from me. My greatest desire is to be together again with my family and for my children to continue studying in this country.
Fernanda has lived in the United States for more than 15 years. She has four children, two of whom are U.S. citizens. Sarah Birkebak is an intern in the MCC Washington Office.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.