Monday, January 14, 2019
Rocio Granados - La Voz Catolica
MIRAMAR | A few days after the feast of the Epiphany, children who accompanied their parents to immigration hearings received gifts, recalling the Hispanic tradition of the 3 Kings or Magi.
The gifts were distributed Jan. 9 to those waiting outside the Miramar offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by volunteers from a coalition of local organizations.
“There are beautiful things for the children. Toys are expensive. Since I just arrived, I don’t have any money to buy any,” said Luciela Manzano, a Cuban immigrant who arrived in Miami in January with her 9-year-old daughter. She received parole, but her husband is detained in a Customs and Border Protection center in Texas, where they entered the country.
The idea behind giving gifts to children for Three Kings Day arose when toys were left over after a Christmas drive and distribution in December at the same location.
“The day that toys were distributed for Christmas was magical,” said Silvia Muñoz, a member of the Jesuit-affiliated Instituto Pedro Arrupe in Miami and one of the organizers of the event. “We were able to bring a little joy to these families that suffer because of their irregular migratory status.”
In addition, over $2,000 worth of gift cards to supermarkets and stores were given to the parents of the children.
The toys were donated by different groups and organizations reached through social media. The University of Miami contributed, as well as the families and relatives of members of the Círculo de Protección (Circle of Protection), a coalition of pro-immigrant organizations that offer water, coffee and snacks to those waiting for their immigration appointments at the Miramar office.
“They bring juice for the kids (whose number increases every day),” said Muñoz. In addition, pastries are donated by an Argentine bakery, along with fruit and whatever else the volunteers come up with. The group also provides immigrants with information about their rights, upcoming immigration clinics, and a helpline. They bring chairs for people to sit on while they wait, or they simply provide an ear to listen to their stories and frustrations.
The Círculo de Protección began in August 2017, after a member of the United We Dream organization saw the poor conditions endured by individuals waiting for their immigration appointments.
The immigrants waited for hours. Representatives of ICE in Miramar “did not care if it rained or if it was 90 degrees outside. Some people even fainted,” said María Bilbao of United We Dream.
Representatives of Women Working Together, Instituto Pedro Arrupe, Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Rise Up Florida, the New Florida Majority, and others began asking the city of Miramar and ICE to improve their treatment of these people.
“We have managed to get the city of Miramar to construct a parking lot because there was none, and they have also added three large tarps and benches,” said Bilbao. They also agreed to allow waiting immigrants to use the restrooms inside the building.
“The immigration service has rented this building without the appropriate facilities to hold people inside,” said Elena Muñoz, of the Pedro Arrupe Institute, who volunteers her time every Wednesday to distribute coffee and food to the waiting immigrants.
The office receives an average of 250 to 300 people daily, but it only has the capacity to hold 40, Bilbao indicated.
Under the Trump administration, many individuals are called to renew their permits and visas at more frequent intervals than before. Some are required to renew once a year, while others must renew every three to six months. At the same time, many who have a deportation order on hold, known as a Stay of Removal, and who under the previous administration were not a priority for deportation, are now being called in, detained and deported.
“We call it the silent raids,” said Bilbao.
On the other hand, in many cases people are called for appointments only to be told upon arrival that they are not on the list and must return another day. But “they are people that come from far away and pay hundreds of dollars to be brought here,” said Silvia Muñoz.
Many have problems because they don’t speak English, mix up their dates, and miss their appointments. There have been pregnant women waiting in line, many with babies, some who are breastfeeding, and there is nowhere for them to do so. There are also handicapped individuals who arrive and wait in wheelchairs.
Bilbao said she has seen several shocking cases, but one that particularly stands out was that of a car that was parked for weeks in front of the ICE offices. “Apparently that person came to their appointment alone. He had his work clothes in the back of his car, and he never came out of the building. He disappeared from his daily life, from his family, from his job.”
This occurrence reminded her of the “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo” in Argentina, a group of women who gathered weekly to ask for the return of loved ones who had “disappeared” during the military dictatorship in the country, from 1976 to 1983). “They did it as a way of resisting, every Thursday, every Thursday,” Bilbao said.
She compared that to what she and the Círculo de Protección volunteers do every Wednesday in front of the ICE offices in Miramar. “It doesn’t matter how many (come), what matters is consistency, resistance, and the will to continue strong. We have been here for a year and a half, and we have gained many improvements,” she said.
This “is the tie to reality because not everything related to social justice can remain at the discussion level. You have to engage hands-on,” said Silvia Muñoz.
“We do not get paid for this, but the satisfaction of praying with someone or providing them with the only thing they might eat the entire day, that is priceless, independent of whatever migratory problem they may be facing,” said María Pérez, a volunteer with United We Dream.