Our True North Network experienced victory on Monday. Claudia Portillo, an undocumented Arcata mother of four who has been in ICE Detention in Bakersfield for the past seven months, was granted release on bond.
This came at the end of just over a week of the North Coast community encountering, understanding and being moved by Claudia’s story and her struggle. Residents met her family and close friends at our Encounter event in Arcata on June 10th, and they had the chance to meet Claudia herself via video from the Mesa Verde Detention Center. Just two days later, Claudia’s case moved quickly and she was scheduled for a bond hearing on Monday, June 18th.
With less than a week to prepare, our network organized to be at her hearing in San Francisco. Our community stepped up and raised almost $20,000 toward her bond and her travel back to her home. A local small business, Los Bagels, agreed to donate food for our journey, and volunteers came forward to drive vans loaded with North Coast residents determined to bring Claudia home.
On Monday at 1:42 PM, the judge granted Claudia’s release from detention on a $12,000 bond. As Claudia’s family left the courthouse and shared the good news with Bay Area press, Claudia’s sister, Jenny Ventura, told reporters: “I’m so happy, but I’m going to keep fighting. This is just one case out of so many.”
Since execution of the Administration’s new Zero Tolerance policy was ordered in April, more than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents at the US-Mexican border and held in jail-like conditions. Additionally, over the past year, the amount of migrant children that the United States has taken into government custody has reached nearly 11,000. The inconvenient truth is that our nation has a long and sordid history of breaking up families: during slavery children were taken and divided from their parents; Native American children were taken by the government and could be sent thousands of miles from their homes. Unfortunately, we are turning another chapter in a long line of immoral and unjust policies that separate and destroy marginalized families.
The President has rescinded his action with a new Executive Order, but that only delays this inhumane situation: A family will remain together in custody until outcome of their court case, and then the children can be divided from their parents. It also asserts an intention to detain families indefinitely, in opposition to current judicial precedent.
The horror stories coming from the current mass detention taking place at our border are numerous: parents have had to listen to their children sobbing and screaming in the next room; one Honduran man committed suicide after his three-year-old was taken from him; children have been kept in what Oregon senator Jeff Merkley described as a “dog kennel”; a woman was told by an agent: “You will never see your children again. Families don’t exist here. You won’t have a family any more.”
Our network has witnessed the pain that a family experiences when a daughter, sister, mother, cousin, aunt and friend is jailed and separated from those who love her. Through our relationships with Claudia and her family, we empathize deeply with the pain of isolation and the cruelty of immigration detention. We opened our hearts and put our boots on the ground for Claudia, and this time we were able to help bring a loved one home. We need to do the same for other families who are being ripped apart by the broken immigration system and callous government officials.
While Claudia will likely be home with her family by the end of this week, thousands of children and parents will remain separated, alone and afraid. The whereabouts of their loved ones will remain unknown. As an organization dedicated to advancing immigrant rights, we will continue our fight for them. Now is the time for all people of goodwill and a thirst for justice in our North Coast Community to stand up and join us in this fight!