In front of the federal courthouse in Concord today, two dozen immigrant rights activists read a letter calling on President Obama to “immediately suspend deportations … for those who would eventually be eligible for the Senate bill’s legalization program.”  The letter went on to state that “It makes no sense to deport today the people you have committed to legalize tomorrow.”

“Families who have lived in New Hampshire for years are being torn apart due to detention and deportation,” said Eva Castillo, Director of NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees.  “It’s tragic that young children are losing their parents just as a path to citizenship is being considered in Congress.” 

Nationally, 205,000 immigrants deported between July 2010 and September 2012, 23% of the total, had U.S. citizen children, Castillo said, citing statistics from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Today’s action at the federal courthouse concluded a weeklong series of events calling for an end to deportations of anyone who has not committed a serious crime.  Activities for the week included fasting by a half-dozen participants; a vigil at the Strafford County House of Corrections, where immigrant detainees are housed by ICE; a rally with activists from across the region at the ICE detention center in Burlington, Massachusetts; and community events at the Unitarian Universalist Church Nashua, the Community Church of Durham, St. Augustin Church in Manchester, and the South Congregational Church of Concord.  Participants included immigrants from several countries, as well as U.S.-born activists. 

During the week, participants heard stories of several immigrant families affected by deportation.  According to the Rev. Sandra Pontoh of Maranatha Indonesian United Church of Christ in Madbury, several hundred Indonesian Christian families came to the U.S. over 10 years ago to escape religious persecution, and have been working and paying taxes in the Seacoast area ever since.  Rev. Pontoh said that “When they first arrived here, they were very happy because at last they felt safe.  But after September 11, 2001, everything changed.  Many families are facing deportation because their asylum claims were denied.”

The group also sent messages to ICE officials requesting a stay of removal for Justo Rufino Barrios Morales, detained at the Strafford County Detention Center.  Barrios Morales, who was the coordinator of the youth group at St. Joseph’s Church in Lynn, Massachusetts and played the role of Jesus at the church’s Easter procession, was stopped by New Hampshire police while he was on his way to work.   According to his family, his father depends on Justo’s wages for diabetes medication.

Nashaley Padilla described how her husband Octavio was deported to Mexico last fall after ICE agents came to their home on a ruse.  Padilla, who has failing eyesight, said she struggles to care for her three daughters including a five-year-old suffering from brain cancer. 

Janeth Orozco of Nashua said, “Many families in New Hampshire are being torn apart by the increased number of deportations.  We immigrants have important things to say about the tragedies we are suffering.   And we need U.S.-born people to help spread the word about what we are going through.”

Maggie Fogarty of the American Friends Service Committee explained that although the Obama Administration and ICE have stated repeatedly that their priority is detention and deportation of serious criminals, ICE continues to deport non-criminal immigrants living and working quietly in New Hampshire and across the nation. 

The week’s events were sponsored by the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, the American Friends Service Committee, the NH Conference United Church of Christ Working Group on Immigration, the Granite State Alliance, and NH Citizens Alliance.  The petition to President Obama and the week of action were part of a national campaign of fasting and activism to end deportations led by the National Day Labor Organizing Committee.