Immigration agents detain mom at school
Other parents outraged by incident in Oakland
By Katy Murphy , STAFF WRITER
Article Last Updated: 12/19/2007 02:34:43 AM PST
OAKLAND — Immigration agents detained a pregnant mother Tuesday morning at an East Oakland elementary school. The woman's frightened 6-year-old daughter was told to go to class as her mother was led away for questioning, according to staff at Melrose Bridges Academy.
"She walked out, sobbing, down the hall," said Suki Mozenter, an English-language coach who witnessed the event.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the agents wanted to talk with Maria Ramirez about her husband's small business. Her husband, Jose De Jesus Guzman-Baez, faces federal charges of knowingly employing illegal immigrants. He has been in custody since November and faces deportation.
Ramirez was released before noon on Tuesday, but she could be ordered to return to Mexico. During questioning, Kice said, it became clear that she was in the country illegally.
Kice, who originally was told the agents had detained Ramirez on her way out of Melrose Bridges after she dropped off her daughter, later said the officers accompanied her into the school.
They did so for her child's sake, she said. "The officers wanted to ensure that the child was not left unattended," Kice said.
But Tuesday afternoon after school, dozens of parents, teachers and students came together to decry the event.
Moyra Contreras, principal of nearby Melrose Leadership Academy, helped organize Tuesday's demonstration. In the last month, Contreras said, three parents have been detained or placed in detention.
"The fact that parents and children don't know if they're going to see each other at the end of the day is very difficult, psychologically, for our kids," Contreras said. She added, "We want our students and our families to come to the schools without fearing arrest."
Mozenter said she first saw the two immigration agents walking outside the school as she arrived in the morning. Minutes later, when she was picking up her keys in the main office, she saw them walk inside with Ramirez and her young daughter.
The girl was crying, Mozenter recalled.
Mozenter said the men explained that they needed to talk to Ramirez and that she was in the country illegally. When Ramirez asked to call her attorney before leaving the school, Mozenter said, the agents said they didn't want to have to take her away in handcuffs in front of the other parents.
Ramirez left with them. When she returned, just before noon, she gave her daughter a hug and told her to go to lunch with her friends. Her daughter didn't want to let go, Mozenter said.
Ramirez said to her in Spanish, "They're not going to take me away."
Reporter Barbara Grady contributed to this story. Contact Katy Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her Oakland schools blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/education.