Claudia Marchan gave this impassioned speech to the crowd gathered near the U.S. Capitol for the #CommunitiesNotCages Day of Action on September 23, 2021.
Good morning! ¡Buenos días a todos! I would first like to give a shout-out to the Detention Watch Network for organizing this important event, for all the work they do for immigrant families, for inviting Illinois to have a presence, and for recognizing that we just SHUT DOWN ALL ICE detention centers in Illinois!
My name is Claudia Marchan. I immigrated to the U.S. at the age of four, and after 34 years of being in this country, my stay is still “temporary.”
I am a DACA recipient and from a mixed-status family. I am also the Executive Director of Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors (NIJON), and an advocacy consultant for National JFON.
Our network is proud to offer free/low-cost, high-quality immigration legal services to those in the highest of need.
I can go on about my story, but I am not here to share that with you today but to share a story of my dad—one that I never imagined I would tell until it happened in the summer of 2018.
On July 25, 2018, as I was having lunch with my classmate and celebrating my new position at NIJFON, I received a call from my dad’s attorney. My dad is a lawful permanent resident (LPR /green card holder) and has been since 1989.
My dad immigrated to the U.S. when he was eight years old. He went to Chicago public schools, worked, and got married. He watched The Jeffersons and loves Carol Burnett so much that my sister Carol is named after her.
I am being serious. My sister will tell you that her name is Carolina and not Carol, as she is a proud Mexican American who beautifully embraces her Mexican culture, as do all four of my U.S. citizen siblings.
My dad grew up without his father (my grandfather died tragically in Mexico when my dad was six years old) and my dad faced many challenges growing up in a country that he struggled to make his own. Some of these challenges led him to make bad decisions that resulted in my dad getting DUI’s and a felony.
My dad did his time, completed his community service, went through rehab, and then put all of this behind him. By the way, this all happened in 1998, more than 20 years ago. For over 20 years my dad has been what you would call “a productive citizen” and we honestly thought we had put this behind us as a family.
This is where it will be harder to share my story.
The attorney called me from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office to let me know that my dad had just been handcuffed and was being taken into a detention center in Juneau, Wisconsin.
You see, my dad went back to visit his mom, my grandmother, who was sick in Mexico. My dad had frequently gone back to Mexico in the past few years and he had never had any issues. But in 2018, a lot of things changed. Because of new executive orders, my dad was red-flagged as a “potential threat” to the U.S. He was stopped at O’Hare airport and then detained on July 25, 2018.
When this happened, I did not know what to do or where to turn. Our family was not financially prepared to post a bail bond for my dad, and the attorneys were not able to say for certain when and if my dad would be released out on bail.
We were devastated and didn’t know what to do. It literally felt like a nightmare.
After my dad had been in the detention center for a week, we were very fortunate to get through to someone at National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), a nonprofit legal services provider. The attorney was able to quickly assess the case, take it on, and communicate with my dad. After three weeks of being in the detention center, the attorney successfully won the case. The judge ruled that my dad, as a lawful permanent resident, should never have been in this situation for charges that had been closed over 20 years ago.
An update on my dad: he has been a diabetic his whole life, and the three weeks in the detention center caused his diabetes to get worse. He is now in danger of losing his eyesight.
Our family was lucky to have found an attorney who was able to help my dad. But there is a huge need for legal representation and protection for immigrant families; we cannot leave the lives of our immigrant communities up to luck.
I know that my dad would still be in Juneau, Wisconsin detention center to this day—or he would have been deported—if we had not found help. I know this because of all of the stories my dad heard while he was detained, and all the stories I heard while I was waiting in the long lines at the ICE offices as people tried to post bond for their family members. It was a heartbreaking experience.
We must protect our families. We need to keep families together. If my dad, who is a lawful permanent resident, is not safe, then none of us are safe.
This is why we passed the Illinois Way Forward Act this year, which shuts down all ICE detention centers in Illinois.
But our work is not done yet. We are now working to ensure that EVERYONE in Illinois is released from immigrant detention centers and that they are not transferred to a detention center in a neighboring state.
This means that our work will not be done until every state in the country follows the lead of California, Washington, and Illinois to shut down ALL detention centers and to put an end to the criminalization of immigrants and the continued oppression of our people!
We need communities, not cages!