Local immigrants speak out about the need for reform

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Connecticut - posted Thu., Dec. 19, 2013
Members of Alcanzando el Mismo Sueño/Embracing the Same Dream meet at Sagrado Corazón de Jesus Church in Windham. Photo by Melanie Savage.
Members of Alcanzando el Mismo Sueño/Embracing the Same Dream meet at Sagrado Corazón de Jesus Church in Windham. Photo by Melanie Savage.

Silverio was born into a poor Mayan community in rural Guatemala. “At the age of 16, I left my country because I refused to serve in the military during the Guatemalan Civil War,” he said. During the war, said Silverio, the military killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. “I was not willing to participate in the killing of my people,” he said.

Silverio traveled to the U.S. and applied for political asylum. While waiting for his application to be processed, he fell in love and got married. Silverio and his wife had two children - a daughter, who is now 10, and a son, age 5. The family lives in the Windham area. “I am proud that both of my children are American citizens,” said Silverio. “My daughter is a very good, well-behaved girl who loves to read. My son enjoys spending time with me, riding his bike, and he loves to go to school.”

Life was good for Silverio and his family until May 20, 2009. “On that day, immigration agents came to my place of work and detained me,” he said. After 15 years, his asylum application had been denied. Silverio was forcibly removed from his workplace and thrown into jail. After spending two and a half months in detention centers in different states, he was deported back to Guatemala. Within days, Silverio was heading back to the U.S. “I had no wish to violate the laws of the country that I had come to love, but I felt that I had no choice other than to take the chance to enter illegally,” he said. Silverio missed his family and wished to be reunited with them.

At the border between the U.S. and Mexico, Silverio and his group encountered some unscrupulous traffickers. “They made threats and tried to rape some of the women in our group,” he said. By the third day in the desert, “we were all lost and out of food and water,” said Silverio. Hot and thirsty, with some beginning to experience hallucinations, the group became desperate. “I realized that I could not go on alone and leave an innocent child to die in the desert,” said Silverio. “I called 911 and we were all rescued by the American authorities.”

While in detention in Arizona, Silverio was approached to become a witness against the traffickers. After three months, he was able to obtain a temporary visa and was reunited with his family. “The past four years have been very difficult for my family,” said Silverio. His daughter has experienced depression, and his son is being treated by a psychologist and other doctors. Silverio himself suffers from PTSD.

“Night after night I have nightmares of being taken away from my family once more,” he said. “I have been living in the United States for over 20 years. I pay my taxes and have refused to accept public assistance beyond the minimum required to feed my children after I lost my job because of my deportation.” A hard worker and homeowner, Silverio lives with the daily fear that he might some day be torn away from his family once again. “I am very hopeful that an immigration reform will pass this year, so that no family will ever have to go through what my family is going through,” he said.

As politicians debate immigration reform at the state and national levels, stories like Silverio’s play out all over the country. There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants nationwide. About 75 percent of undocumented immigrants arrive across the U.S. southern border with Mexico, and hail from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Columbia and other Central and South American countries. The bulk, about 50 percent of undocumented immigrants, was born in Mexico. The largest percentage of undocumented immigrants live in California, with other large populations residing in Texas, New York, Illinois, Florida and Arizona. There are approximately 120,000 undocumented immigrants within the state of Connecticut, according to Reuters. Concentrated populations live in cities such as Hartford and New Haven, but there are also large numbers of undocumented immigrants living in smaller cities such as Norwich and Willimantic.

Sister Mary Jude, of the Office of Hispanic Ministry of the Norwich Diocese and Sagrado Corazón de Jesús Church in Windham, invited a group of parishioners to help with a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Clinic being held at Segrado Corazón in the summer of 2012. The success of the clinic prompted the formation of Alcanzando el Mismo Sueño/Embracing the Same Dream - an advocacy group that continues to press for comprehensive immigration reform within the U.S. Recent actions have included a forum held in February which attracted more than 300 people, and included as speakers U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and ECSU President Elsa Núñez. There have been marches and demonstrations, as well as a 300-person-strong showing in this year’s Willimantic July 4 Boom Box Parade. The group has held voter registration clinics and other civic events.

“Our members are U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants,” said Embracing the Same Dream spokesperson Elkin Espirita-Loaiza. “It includes U.S.-born and naturalized citizens, members of Sagrado Corazón as well as from other churches in the area. We are English speakers and Spanish speakers. Guatemalans, Mexicans, Colombians, Panamanians, Puerto Ricans and others have been part of our group.”

Read next week’s issue of the ReminderNews for more about the issues surrounding immigration reform, as well as more stories from Connecticut immigrants.


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