IM4HI Vision Media

My Immigrant Family Separated by Deportation / A Prayer for Hugo


By: Hulissa Aguilar
Prologue by: IM4HI Staff

It is with heavy hearts that we share this prayer for Hugo and uplift the voice of Hulissa Aguilar. Despite tremendous efforts from his family and the local community, we were unable to prevent the deportation of Hugo, a member of the Interfaith Movement family. He leaves behind three children including his 15 year old daughter Hulissa Aguilar. Please read her message written a month before his departure, published in the East Bay Times. (Read below).

Hugo and his family’s story is not new or unordinary in the year 2021. Family separation happens every day at the border and to long-term residents in our communities. These are painful casualties of an unjust immigration system that would rather separate families than increase pathways to safety, inclusion, and citizenship. 

We ask you to pray for Hugo and his family during this time, and to stay committed with us to creating a world without bars and borders where every person is sacred and treated with integrity and compassion.  We will continue to accompany Hulissa who is serving as IM4HI’s youth intern this summer to support other children facing family separation.  

Hulissa’s Message to the Public

Published 5/13/2021 in the East Bay Times

My father will be deported next month. I am 15 years old and am facing the possibility of losing him permanently.

After years of an expensive and stressful legal process, my dad received a final decision on his immigration case. His plea to stay in the United States was denied, meaning he will be required to leave our home and go to Mexico.

He will be forced to leave behind a life he has built here for 25 years. The deportation leaves few to no options for him to ever return.

My father helped build this nation as a carpenter, constructing homes, shopping centers and resorts. He has lived here since he left Mexico when he was 16 years old. While my grandmother, uncles and aunts became citizens or legal permanent residents, my father has been the only one unable to fix his immigration status because of a mistake he made long ago.

In 2005, when he was a young man, he had a drug conviction. He was one of the millions affected by the War on Drugs, which disproportionately incarcerated Black and Latinx people. He spent two years in prison for the offense. If his arrest had occurred today, court programs including drug treatment and mental health care might have been available to him. He might not have gone to prison.

After he finished his two-year sentence, because of his conviction, he was deported under the 1996 Illegal Immigration Act. I was just a baby then. Although he wasn’t supposed to, my father made the decision to come back to the United States to be a part of my life.

Even though my parents divorced when I was young, my dad has always seen me, bought me what I needed and been my biggest advocate. After work, when he is exhausted, he takes me to my soccer games and brings my siblings, ages 3 and 6, and family members to cheer me on. My dad is my biggest fan, and he inspires me. He does whatever he can for those he loves.

In 2017, he came in contact with the police. He was never charged, but that encounter resulted in his direct transfer from Santa Rita jail to immigration custody. He spent 17 months in immigration detention until we were able to get him released.

Current immigration proposals such as President Biden’s U.S. Citizenship Act, which would create a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented residents, would exclude thousands of people like my dad, who made mistakes long ago. We need federal immigration reforms such as the New Way Forward Act, which would reverse the mandatory deportation of immigrants who have served their time and restore judicial discretion.

California needs to pass AB 937, the CA VISION Act (Voiding Inequality and Seeking Inclusion for Our Immigrant Neighbors), which would protect people like my dad, who have served their sentences, from being transferred from jails and prisons directly into custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

My dad made a mistake a long time ago and served his time. He transformed his life and is a valuable person to our wider community. He should not be doubly punished with permanent separation from his family.

I can’t and don’t want to imagine my life without him. Will he be safe? Will he ever be allowed to come back?

Hulissa Aguilar, 15, of San Leandro, is a ninth-grade student at Arroyo High School. She is also a youth leader with the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, a statewide organization working to end the criminalization of people of color in our immigration and incarceration systems.

IM4HI Vision

Chauvin Verdict: Time to Reimagine Public Safety

Artwork by Jada Wong

Rev. Deborah Lee and Rev. Larry W. Foy

We share a sense of somber relief in response to yesterday’s guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin. George Floyd was a father, son, and brother whose life mattered.  We pray this verdict brings some measure of healing and acknowledgement to the Floyd family, and is a first step of accountability for a tragic and preventable loss of life.  We pray that this moment marks an end to the impunity of law enforcement, particularly with violence enacted towards Black people. We believe that our society must be one that treats Black lives as sacred and one that fosters care, compassion, and dignity. 

We offer our prayers to the Floyd family and thousands of other families alike who have lost a loved one to police violence.  We remember yesterday’s latest victim, Ma’Khia Bryant, along with Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and those here in California: Steven Taylor, Michael Thomas, Yanira Serrano, Angelo Quinto to only name a few. 

Death at the hands of police killings is a trend that is increasing and disproportionately impacts the lives of Black people at three times the rate of other communities. So far this year over 260 civilians have been killed by police. LA County Sheriff’s and LAPD have killed over 1,000 people since 2000. It is not just a few bad apples. Police violence is an epidemic and threat to public health and safety. 

We need radical change and transformation  in order to realize an equitable and just world. The existing system which focuses solely on punishment, does not bring about restoration but continues the cycle of harm and violence. True transformation and change cannot be achieved through our current system of policing, punishment, and prisons. We need processes that center healing and transformation. 

True justice will come through the eradication of structural racism and individual bias.  True justice will come when public safety is reimagined and centers on violence prevention and investing resources for people to thrive.  True justice will come when we create a society where every person is respected, valued and embraced in their full selves. 

We invite you to join with us at the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity in our organizing efforts to reimagine public safety in our communities and along our border, where we are calling for a radical redirection of funds from harmful enforcement models into investing in affordable housing, good jobs, equitable health and education, programs and support for youth and elders.  

As a nation, it is time for us to pass federal legislation like the Breathe Act which invests in a new vision of public safety, genuine security and liberation.  Only restorative justice will get us out of this long pattern of collective trauma and move us towards collective healing.  We hope you will join us.  

IM4HI Vision

Reframing the Border Crisis: Compassion and Dignity Now


Photo: School of the Americas Watch, Encuentro at the Border 2017

by Rev. Deborah Lee & Cecilia Vasquez

As people of faith, we believe that people everywhere must have the fundamental human rights to land, economic security, health, education, and dignity.  People should have the right to migrate and the right to stay home. 

Recently the news has been filled with headlines stirring up familiar tropes and fears of an invasion of non-white immigrants at our southern border.   Some are politically using vulnerable immigrants to create a “crisis” at the US-Mexico border. The real crisis is not at the border, but rather the global context that forces people to migrate.  Inequality, climate change, neoliberal economic policies, and militarization are the root causes of poverty and migration in much of the world. In order to address any problem systemically, we must address the root causes, particularly as defined by indigenous people, women’s groups, and grassroots communities on the ground.  We must acknowledge what has been the role of the US government and corporations in exacerbating the problem. We must address root causes with co-responsibility, collective action, and community care so people aren’t forced to migrate.

This Could Be Done Differently

 As a country, we have enough resources to welcome new immigrants and respond in a humane, responsible, and compassionate manner. The Biden Administration promised to restore asylum rights and have a different approach to refugees and migrants. But in March, 17,345 people who came to the border as part of a family were expelled, a full third of all families.  Although President Biden has ceased the Trump practice of expelling unaccompanied children which was blocked by the courts last November, he has failed to rescind Title 42, which was invoked by the Trump administration to use the pandemic as an excuse to expel anyone arriving and seeking asylum.  The continued practice of Title 42 has forced some families to separate at the border leaving some to become “unaccompanied minors.” The label “unaccompanied minors” is misleading. In fact 90% of so-called unaccompanied minors have family members already in the US with whom they plan to reunite. The longstanding practices of Customs and Border Patrol, has led to making children “unaccompanied,” by failing to recognize other trusted family members with whom they are travelling as family.  

We believe there is another way.  The Biden Administration is seeking to create “influx centers,” another name for massive child detention facilities.  Our countries’ history of separating families and warehousing children goes back to the genocidal policies towards indigenous and Black communities. Immigrant children have been subject to it since.   

Detention in large scale influx facilities is not the solution now, not during a pandemic, and not ever. Health professionals and child welfare advocates are clear that such settings which deprive children of their freedom are inherently harmful to children for any amount of time.  Evidence suggests that  children housed in these situations face severe trauma and  “will likely suffer acute, sustained, and even permanent impacts to their minds and bodies.” These “emergency influx shelters” are part of decades of policies under Republican and Democratic administration to criminalize versus humanize migrants.  The top priority must be non-detention solutions which rapidly reunite children with their parents, trusted caregivers or family members must be the top priority.  The Biden administration must rescind Title 42 and apply financial resources to more rapidly vet and process children to get them out of detention and reunite them with their families.

We Can Respond with Compassion

We have more than enough resources to approach this in a different way. The question is, “Do we have enough courage and heart?”  If we are courageous we can do the right thing and respond with compassion. We can reimagine our current system of detention and deportation by responding with collective action and community care to welcome people in safe and dignified ways. We have organized and witnessed the ability of communities to come together to support and accompany newly arrived immigrants seeking safety in the US as an alternative to family separation and detention.  With redirected government resources, this could meet the need and be even more impactful.   

We need to commit to the core values of human dignity and  freedom, that no one belongs in cages.  But that everyone deserves communities of care and welcome and support that they need to fully thrive.

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