“We are having a meeting this Wednesday [October 1] with all the deported moms,” I am told by Yolanda Varona, the director of DREAMers Moms USA/Tijuana. “You are welcome to come. Hector says to bring him some chicken.”
I have promised Hector Barajas, a deported veteran, that I would bring him some spicy chicken from Church's when I could.
The support house for deported veterans (aka “the Bunker”) recently moved from a ghastly space in downtown Tijuana to Otay. Their new location doubled their space; Hector can now host more deported veterans and also deported mothers. Varona has been staying in Otay for a few weeks and hosts meetings for DREAMers USA.
I arrive to the new space with a ten-piece box of spicy chicken, which Barajas swiftly takes to the kitchen.
“Let me show you around the new space,” says Barajas. “Look, we have a nicer kitchen now, the bathroom is bigger and it has a shower, and there's no more crazy landlord.” The building, located on the corner of Avenida Tecnologico and Juan Alvarez, is indeed more spacious and comfortable than where the support house was previously located.
Women wearing pink shirts sit around in a circle, a couple kids play games only they can understand while the Little Mermaid plays on a small TV. The meeting is about to start, but Varona is still waiting for new deported mothers to arrive.
“Uyyy…ya se dio cuenta,” Varona exclaims as a pregnant woman figures out that this is no ordinary meeting but a surprise baby shower for her.
“Well, let's start the meeting,” says Varona. “Like every meeting, I would like to start with a prayer.” Varona gets to her feet. We all follow and hold hands in a circle. “Dear heavenly Lord, we thank you for allowing us all to be here alive and in another meeting. We ask that you give us strength and patience to continue with our purpose to get back to our home soon. Please mend the hearts of the congressmen that have it in their power to change the law so we can go back home. Bless the hearts of those who are on their way, like the new baby someone will be having in this group. Forgive us for our mistakes and sins. Te lo pedimos en el nombre del padre, del hijo y del espiritu santo…amen….
“For the newcomers, for Matthew who is here reporting, I want to read the purpose of DREAMers Moms of America,” Varona continues after the prayer. “We are a group of daughters, wives, mothers and women who are undocumented and not afraid to come out of the shadows to raise our voices to fight for our rights and those of more than 11 million people. The current law has created a moral, political and economical crisis. We are asking to the leaders of the U.S. government to work together and listen to the people of America to work up a solution for immigration reform.”
Varona finishes reading the statement of DREAMers Moms, a nonprofit organization in ten American cities, including San Diego and Tijuana.
“Every single one of us is here because we have sons or daughters who are American citizens. We have been separated from our family and the place we call home. We are here to keep each other informed of the new laws, to support each other and to fight together to go back. Does anyone want to start sharing their story? How about one of you that have been deported the longest?”
Emma starts to talk. She was deported eight years ago in Ciudad Juárez. Her husband served in the U.S. military and her three kids are American. She was deported for a third time when trying to fix her immigration papers. They told her she couldn't come back to America in ten years because she had been deported twice already. Her husband had open-heart surgery in December, and they denied her the humanitarian permit to go see him. They told her they only give those permits for funerals. She constantly meets with lawyers to try and go back, but the latest news is that they won't allow her to enter the country for 20 years.
Alicia was deported four years ago. She has a son, daughter, and a granddaughter she has seen a couple of times when her daughter crosses the border to Tijuana. Alicia says she owed for several tickets and was in court to remedy her situation. She says she was pulled aside as people went before the judge. They told her she couldn't pay her tickets, that she had to go to jail. Her son took her to the detention area two weeks later. When they were processing her papers, she asked when was she getting out of prison; they told her she wasn't going to prison but instead getting deported to Mexico. She lived in the U.S. for 30 years.
More women continue to talk, all on the verge of tears as they share their deportation stories. A woman from Guatemala suffered not only deportation but domestic abuse from her pollero husband and says she was ignored by governments of three countries. Another has an autistic son (an American citizen) and wants to go back mainly to get the treatment and education for him that she cannot find in Tijuana.
A deported father from El Salvador hasn't seen his kids (American citizens) or wife (illegal Mexican) in years. The American government put his children in foster homes when he and his wife were deported. Since then, her wife (from Veracruz) has crossed back illegally. He is thinking about doing the same soon. This time, he just wants to get his children back, even if he gets deported with them.
The gloomy mood is alleviated with the arrival of "Maria Galleta" (aka Mary Cookie). This good samaritan is the joy of the group. Maria, who is an American citizen, volunteers her van and drives the sons and daughters from California into Tijuana for a visit with their mothers and back home. This time she brought plenty of food and cake for the party. The group instantly is in a better mood.
Baby-shower games begin, food is shared, and presents are given to the expecting mother. They reassure the deported pregnant mother that she is not alone anymore, that she has a family who is fighting by her side to get her back home. At dusk, the meeting is adjourned with a final prayer. As we say our goodbyes, they pose for pictures and chant, “Not one more deportation!”