A decade ago, three families came together to confront the largely invisible crisis of deportation. Together they broke the silence and overcame the isolation that many families face when one of their members is facing deportation. Creating an informal network focused on providing mutual support and education, the Shahani Family, Subhash Kateel, and Maria Muentes formed Families for Freedom (FFF). They met in small apartment living rooms overflowing with people from all continents of the world. From these three founding families' vision grew a powerful organization that has involved hundreds of families fighting on the frontlines of this nation's immigration debate.
Families for Freedom started in the aftermath of 9/11 when Arab and Muslim men had their civil liberties stripped from them, forced to report to the government on the sole basis of their nationality. Thousands of these people were ripped from their families, locked in detention centers and eventually deported. In the post 9/11 United States, many immigrants who weren't part of the target population in the “War on Terror” felt they were immune to these destructive policies, fueling an “us vs. them” mentality. FFF focused on overcoming these divides and organized for the rights of all immigrants to stay with their families and communities.
As time progressed, a new division emerged between the “good immigrant” and the “bad immigrant” while much of the national debate focusing on allowing the “hard workers” to stay while deporting those with criminal convictions, even after they served their sentences. Families for Freedom once again stood against this schism, recognizing these divisionary tactics as toxic for immigrant justice.
The people being deported, with or without criminal convictions, are not just statistics. They are our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, partners and children. They are human beings. Immigrant communities need to unite against all oppressive policies and not further marginalize any one person or group.
When FFF started, less than 200,000 people were deported yearly and now that number has more than doubled with close to 400,000 people exiled every year. Feeding the deportation machine, tens of thousands of immigrants on any given day are locked away in privatized for-profit immigration detention centers. INS has become ICE, and special registration has become legalized Jim Crow with Arizona's racist SB1070, show me your papers law. The recent introduction of the federal deportation program “Secure Communities” in NYC, combined with NYPD's Stop and Frisk tactics, has brought a virtual SB1070 within our city limits.
We believe that the people who are most directly affected by these harmful immigration policies need to be at the frontlines, organizing and educating to keep our families together. For over a decade we have served as a support group for individuals and families affected by detention and deportation and found diverse ways for them to be involved in fighting back, organizing targeted communities to respond publicly to the problem, and advocating with elected officials and the media for the reform of immigration policies. We have held speak outs on corners from the Bronx to the front gates of Louisiana Detention Centers, conducted workshops with detainees in Rikers Island and deportees in the Dominican Republic, and protested from the steps of ICE to Capitol Hill.
As long as deportations and unjust immigration policies continue we will continue to fight to keep our families together.
Si Se Puede!
View this slideshow for 10 years of photos of Families for Freedom's organizing