At the Decorah United Methodist Church’s Justice for Our Neighbors legal clinic in January, Alicia met a group of folks who take Jesus’ counsel in Matthew 25 seriously.
I was blessed to help out this group of Good Samaritans and do some transportation for Alicia as a follow-up to her appointment with immigration attorney Ann Naffier, staff attorney for Justice for Our Neighbors.
I had a chance to get to know Alicia and her little daughter Martita while driving from Des Moines to Omaha to Marshalltown, with a sleep-over at my place in Greenfield. We were touring central Iowa so that she could come from Postville to the immigration court in Omaha.
Why in the world would a woman from Guatemala come all the way to Postville, Iowa, to freeze to death in an Iowa winter? When you are in a car driving around the state, you can find out.
Martita spent her life as a live-in maid in other people’s homes while her children were raised by relatives. Her mother did not allow her to attend school. From the time that she was 7, she had to work to help support the family.
After years of working, and with three children, she and her husband were being harassed and then threatened and then extorted by gangs in their town of Atitlan, Guatemala. I think of Atitlan as a lovely mountain village by a beautiful lake that is popular with tourists and college students who come to study Spanish. It is known for its Holy Week celebration when the streets are “painted” with scenes of the Bible in dyed sawdust.
However, Alicia experienced another side of the pretty postcard that was ugly and violent. She began to fear that little Martita would be kidnapped if the gangs’ demands for money became so high that the family couldn’t pay. She also was worried that her two teen-aged sons would be injured. The gangs were recruiting heavily and because the boys would not join, they were beaten several times. Going to the police was not an option because they were often involved with the gangs.
Then Alicia’s sister who had been living in Postville for 12 years came to visit. Seeing the desperate situation of the family, she urged them to risk the crossing to the U.S. Her life was stable with a good job and she was legalized through the U visa process. This way forward offered peace and a brighter future for the children.
Leaving Guatemala and crossing Mexico when you do not have a plane ticket isn’t easy. The family was turned back at the Guatemalan border several times after being caught by Mexican border guards. Finally, they crossed by separating. By walking and taking buses, they arrived at the Arizona border after about two months. There it was necessary to pay a guide. Everyone was caught by Border Patrol separately. The two boys were taken to a center where they were kept 12 days before being released to their aunt. Alicia and Martita were transferred to three different centers, where they were held for a day or two each time and finally allowed to travel by bus after her sister bought the tickets. Alicia’s husband was summarily deported.
When Alicia was released, she was fitted with an ankle monitor. Because she is diabetic, it started to cause a type of blister and so was removed. Now ICE calls her on a daily basis, although they originally told her it would be weekly. If she doesn’t catch the first call, she says that they get very angry on the phone with her.
At least, we got some good news yesterday at the immigration court. Judge Fujimoto gave the group of mothers and children like Alicia another six months to find representation.
Alicia’s transportation was arranged by Decorah Path to Citizenship with the cooperation of Kathi Mitchell, Carl Peterson and Ruth Palmer. She came to the Decorah United Methodist Church in January for the Justice for Our Neighbors legal clinic and received advice and counsel from Ann Naffier. It is not known yet whether or not the extremely full schedule will allow JFON to represent her because of her deportation proceedings.
As a side note, April Palma’s name came up at the end of the court hearing, when a young man arrived and let the judge know that he was changing attorneys. He is an unaccompanied minor who is now a client of JFON attorney April Palma.
One by one, without fanfare or recognition, Justice for Our Neighbors, a ministry of the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, is helping desperately poor people, many of whom are fleeing violence in their country of birth where there is no justice for them. This work would not be possible without the contributions and the volunteer time of supporters like you.