Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: Immigrants Fearing Deportation Prepare for Separation from Their Children

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: Immigrants Fearing Deportation Prepare for Separation from Their Children

Article excerpt

The gymnasium at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Parish buzzed with activity.

Children were laughing and dodging their parents as they ran between tables, where at least three generations of Latino families were eating and socializing after the weekly Spanish-language Mass.

Outside, men swapped tales as they flipped tortillas on a grill.

In the cafeteria, there was an eerie quiet.

There, two by two at tables spread throughout the room, sat lawyers and interpreters waiting to help families young and old prepare for an event none of them want, but all of them fear: deportation.

Ever since the election of President Donald Trump, his executive orders barring certain immigrants and refugees, his tough talk about the wall along the Mexican border, and the recent immigration raids separating undocumented immigrants from their children, fear has risen in Latino communities like a drumbeat rising to crescendo.

A young couple sit down at Table 15 across from lawyer Sarah Pleban, who specializes in guardianship law. The mother, with long, jet-black hair, holds her toddler, whose pink-flower bows match the color of the balloon she grasps like it's her most important possession. Dad has rugged good looks and hands that work for a living. They could come out of central casting for a leading couple on a Mexican telenovela on Univision or Telemundo.

"If the bad thing happens," Pleban says, waiting for her interpreter to repeat the phrase in Spanish, "If you get detained, you need to say: 'I want an attorney,' and you need to say it in English."

First the husband, then his wife, practice saying the phrase.

"I want an attorney."

Pleban is one of more than a dozen St. Louis-area lawyers volunteering to help undocumented immigrants all over the region sign power-of-attorney paperwork so if parents get separated from their children, a friend or relative has the legal right to care for the children many of whom are American citizens until they can be reunited. The seminars were started by Catholic legal assistance, the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project and Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates as a direct result of the more aggressive stance taken by immigration officials since the election of Trump. …

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