Obama lied and families cried

October 8, 2014

Hannah Fleury reports on the human toll of Barack Obama's policy of deportations by looking at the traumatic impact of one deportation on a family in Queens.

ON JUNE 30, Barack Obama held a press conference to blame Republicans for blocking immigration reform and vow to "fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress." This turned out to be yet another one of the president's empty promises--at the end of the summer, Obama announced that he was putting off action on immigration until after the election in November.

Obama has the authority to immediately halt deportations, and each day that he chooses not to, more than 1,000 people are deported.

Two hours before the president lied at his press conference, Wadud Mohammed was taken by over a dozen armed immigration officials from a detention center to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, where he was sent to his native Bangladesh, not knowing when he would again see his wife and daughter again. Mohammed, a deli owner and active community member in Queens, was deported despite serious medical concerns and an active legal fight to keep his family together.

The family of Wahud Mohammed speaks out against his deportation
The family of Wahud Mohammed speaks out against his deportation (Danny Katch | SW)

Over the next few weeks, while Obama was supposedly hard at work fixing the immigration system, the members of the Mohammed family left behind were devastated. During Wadud's detention, his wife, Ferdoucy, couldn't maintain their small business, and so the family lost its income. She was forced to rent out the family's bedroom, and now she and Wadud's daughter Noora live in the living room.

But when 13-year-old Noora spoke to SocialistWorker.org, alongside her mother, what became clear was that the emotional impact of her father's detention and deportation was what had affected her most. Ferdoucy suffers from mental illness and so the loss of Wadud has meant the loss of both financial and emotional stability in Noora's life. As Noora says:

My mom was dead...and alive--a.k.a. a zombie. She couldn't even take care of me, least of all--I don't even think she knew who I was. She totally forgot about who we were or what was going on outside. And she barely went outside. It was horrifying.

Then I had to change schools because I went to a private school, and my mom couldn't afford the tuition. So I had to go to a public school. And apparently, it was horrible for me to have to change schools in the middle of the year. I was in 7th grade, so some people say you're going through some teenage stuff. I don't know, but I couldn't fit in there. And I was immediately labeled as Emo right away. So it wasn't the best experience, but I have to go for 8th grade anyway.

LIKE MANY children of undocumented immigrants, Noora didn't know about her father's precarious status until he was detained, adding to the trauma of the experience. Years of her parents' efforts to protect her and create a stable and happy environment for her to grow were overturned. She says:

My mom had no choice but to tell me. I don't think they thought that was going to be such a huge issue. He had his work permit--that's what I knew. But they wouldn't bring it up. I think I was suspicious, but I never really thought twice about it. I started noticing some stuff. When he got his work permit, he was way too excited.

But when he got arrested, it all jumbled up together. And it kind of made sense. And for me, I feel so guilty for some reason. I feel like it's my fault. I don't know how to explain the feelings that I'm going through right now.

Noora was confronted with a front-row view of the country's immigration system. From Bangladesh, her father told her and Ferdoucy about being deported with a 22-person escort, riding to the airport with an officer on either side of him, pointing guns at him. Her earlier visits to her father's detention center opened her eyes about how many other children were in her family's same situation. As Noora explains:

When we used to visit my dad, the whole room was full of people--mothers, and I saw little kids playing with their fathers. And there used to be fathers crying for the same reason--because they missed their children. And the children were too small to understand anything.

Now Noora, like so many other children, is trying to make sense of the experience. Wondering why the U.S. would deport her father, she says:

They were racist. My dad asked them, "Why are you deporting me when there's so many other families over there that aren't getting deported, and you're deporting me instead?" and one of the officers said that they were deporting him because he's a Muslim...Who does that? Who says that?

There's only so much I can do. I'm 13. I shouldn't have gone through this. I don't think anybody in this phase, their teenage years, should go through this. Because you need two guardians to help you through. You need an overprotective father and a faithful mother.

Now, both of them are away--well, my mother was here, but she wasn't here to take care of me. I used to come home from school and she wouldn't be there. She wouldn't care if I came home at 7 o'clock--that's how out of her head she was. She wouldn't notice if I came home at 9 o'clock. She would think of something else. She was elsewhere. So it was like having no parents at all. I don't think anybody should go through this.

Noora is right, of course, that nobody should have to endure the trauma of forced family separation. But while Obama has made many promises to the immigrant community since he first ran for president, under his watch, over 250 families have been broken up by deportations each day, a grim record that has earned him the title "Deporter in Chief" from advocate groups.

Last month, Obama added insult to the injuries of the Mohammed family and so many others when he announced that he would not be doing anything to halt deportations--because Congressional Democrats running for re-election didn't want to appear "soft" on "illegal immigration."

People should think long and hard about supporting a political party that rolls over for banks and tanks--but stands "tough" against people like Wadud Mohammed.

Danny Katch contributed to this article.

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