Fighting deportations of immigrant parents

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

“Danny” (name changed for privacy), a first-grader at a Philadelphia charter school, was home the night immigration agents came to pick up his father for deportation to Indonesia.

According to Danny’s mother, the immigration agents told his father to say goodbye to his son because he would never see him again. His mother said the incident has traumatized Danny, who is coping not only with the loss of his father but also with the fear of an uncertain future.

As Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ramps up deportations locally, a number of schools, community organizations, and coalitions are strategizing to fight against what activists call “cruel” and “inhumane” practices.

Independence Charter School and the Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School have sponsored letter-writing campaigns on behalf of school families threatened with deportation.

Immigrant rights advocacy groups formed the Day Without An Immigrant Coalition, which lists family unity as a central platform of immigration reform. The group has sponsored local rallies and educational forums, which have drawn tens of thousands of supporters.

According to the Urban Institute, as many as one in 10 American families have at least one parent as an undocumented immigrant. Mary Yee, director of the School District’s Office of Family Engagement and Language Equity Services, said the District doesn’t have firm figures on the number of local children potentially affected by deportation, but estimates that 1,000 to 4,000 students could be impacted.

Ellen Somekawa, executive director of Asian Americans United, said that organization is supporting the “Justice for Jiang Zhen Xing Campaign.” Jiang Zhen Xing, the mother of two elementary-aged children, miscarried her second-trimester twins following a deportation attempt where she said she was denied adequate food, water and requested medical attention for hours.

Somekawa noted, “Many of us are not prepared to handle the brutality of this system, but clearly it’s something we need to figure out, especially as immigration rules become harsher,”

At the Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School, principal Deborah Wei said the letter-writing campaign helped children engage in a discussion about human rights at a basic level – the right of a family to remain together.

“The children’s questions are quite simple,” Wei said. “But no one can answer them."