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  • Voices of Courage
    Awards Luncheon

    May 3, 2018

    Amalia's Voices of Courage Award Remarks

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    I am most humbled and honored to receive this distinguished award from the Women's Refugee Commission. Thank you, Mamie.

    I am from El Salvador and I came to this country in 1996. My husband came in 1995.

    My husband was an architect, during and after the war, he worked for USAID money. He was helping to rebuild the country. That made him an enemy of the guerillas. Even when the peace came to El Salvador those people remained his enemies.

    He was kidnapped and had to give a ransom. He felt his family was not safe.

    He convinced me he needed to go. He thought he had to go to the US to build a new life for us, where we would be safe. We were going to apply for asylum here.

    My husband entered the country legally.  After a year he convinced me I should join him. I didn’t want to leave the children, but he convinced me so I went. We were consulting different lawyers to apply for asylum, but they said this was not an option because the war had ended. My sister-in-law, who is a US citizen living in Miami, claimed us. We sent our application and paid the fees.

    After a year in this country, my life was miserable without my children.  I wanted to be a mother, not just a provider. We worked seven days a week,10 hours a day to buy airplane tickets for the children.

    In 1997 our family was finally reunited.  I was very happy. In 1998, after dropping off my children at school, a police car stopped me. I was asked for my driver's license. I showed them a temporary driver’s license. I was asked to step out of the car, and then I was handcuffed and arrested.

    They asked for my husband, I told them where we live. Federal policemen with weapons surrounded the house; one of them rang the door bell.  My oldest daughter who was nineteen at that time opened the door. They barged in and burst into the bedroom, arrested my husband, searched everything, and confiscated his passport. I told them we had an application to stay in process, but they ignored me.

    We were sent to San Pedro Detention Center. We were in the San Pedro Detention Center for sixteen months. The San Pedro detention Center was run like a prison—where husbands are not with the wives and children are not with their parents. Parents are being deported without having the opportunity to touch, kiss and hug their child for the last time.

    My husband got sick and he was not treated. He had lung cancer, but we did not know that until months after we were released from the detention center. My husband died from cancer.

    When I walked out of the detention center, I realized that I was never going to forget the people who kept me alive. They were the church worker volunteers. I knew what work I had to do.

    Families who need to be together, parents who want to raise their children are taken away from their children.The children loose their family and their family falls apart because their parent is deported . When these children  are separated from their family they are far more likely to not have a good education or to not do well in school and end up in criminal activities. These children do not have any emotional support. They feel they were abandoned and they suffer in silence.

    We are talking about US citizens, American children born here whose parents are taken away from them and that’s wrong.

    Families of the Incarcerated goes into low income communities.  We work with immigrants to help them deal with the stigma of being undocumented. Because of this stigma they do not fight for their rights.

    We are trying to keep these families  together to give them hope and to keep children on the right track. Families of the Incarcerated visits immigrants in prison.  We give them a manual to help them understand the challenges they will face when they finish their sentence.

    Most of them who cannot fight their cases will be deported and will have to leave their children behind. This is one of the unfortunate consequences of our current immigration system.

    To help these families see their loved ones Families of the Incarcerated provides free transportation for the children to visit their parent before they leave this country forever.

    The children need to know that their parent love them even though they have to leave the country. In detention, I saw too many parents who were deported without ever having the chance to communicate this to their children.This still happens to thousands of families each year.

    So today with deep gratitude I accept this award in the name of the immigrants that have broken my heart open. In the name of my children who have to lived a traumatic experience due to their parents' incarceration.

    Today, I invite you to COME, join me in this mission,. Be open to the possibility of having your heart broken open, and in that place realize how much we have to be thankful for, and how little to ask for. We need to fight for our children.

    Thank you.