Tuesday - Jul 16, 2019

The day when government raiders took away Hailey Cristina’s mother

by Antonio DaCruz

Three generations of my family — my mother, my sister and my niece — celebrated Mother’s Day with mixed emotions: joy and relief at being together, but fearful about the future. We have not had peace of mind since my sister Sandra was detained after a workplace raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in New Bedford in March.

ICE took Sandra as far away as Texas and detained her for nine days. For three days, we had no word from her or anyone else. We had no idea where she was. The only thing I could be sure of was that, wherever my sister was, she had only one priority, as did I — her 18-month-old daughter, Hailey Cristina, who was left behind. With my parents and wife, who was back in Cape Verde at the time, I became the sole caregiver for my little niece.

Those nine days were a frantic and emotional time. I did my best to take care of Hailey even though I had not changed a diaper in more than ten years. But more difficult was trying to soothe her heartbreaking cries for “mommy.” I also did everything possible to find out where my sister was and how I could get in touch with her. I was overwhelmed by grief, fear, and exhaustion.

Our neighbors tried to help. A community group called Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition and our church did its best during this difficult time.

My niece would only allow me to come near her and often hid under the table when she felt frightened without her mother. So, while I took care of the baby, my friends and others in the community made phone calls, asked questions and helped track down Sandra.

My sister finally called. She did not know where she was, but had been on a plane. Even though she said she had handcuffs cutting into her skin for more than 24 hours and had not been allowed to shower for three days, her first question was about Hailey. Just as I was barely able to handle my niece’s questions about mommy and comfort her, I had no easy answers for Sandra.

The mother-daughter bond remained strong, but the innocence and playfulness that they had shared was now lost.

Sandra is home now. Her homecoming was hard on all of us. She was crying and shaking and, two weeks later, her arms and legs still had bruises from the handcuffs.

At first, her daughter hid and stopped calling her “mommy.” Hailey is still not sure if mommy will always be here to take care of her. Sandra is sad and scared. We check by phone every hour so that I know she is safe. We tell our story to anyone who will listen and hope people realize that things must change. Good people are getting hurt.

My sister’s excitement about becoming a U.S. citizen — just as our parents, her daughter and I did – has faded. The “America” we embraced is not a place where a little girl’s sense of security is shattered in the blink of an eye. Our government must do better than traumatize families this way.

We celebrated Mother’s Day with family members and then got together in a park in New Bedford with friends and some other families whose lives were disrupted by the raids. None of us know what the future holds for us. Sandra and Hailey may have to go back to Cape Verde. It’s a place that offers few opportunities because of severe drought and a lack of jobs. We have no family left there.

The women detained after the ICE raid who have returned to New Bedford were honored at church on Mother’s Day. The Sunday following the ICE raid, the only people left attending church were men and children. They prayed as hard as they could but their mothers were all gone. At least for this one Mother’s Day, their prayers were answered. Hispanic Link.

(Antonio DaCruz is a resident of New Bedford, Massachussets. He may be reached by e-mail care of editor@hispaniclink.org ). © 2007