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In ICE detention for over a month, Troy woman helpless as her American children suffer

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In ICE detention for over a month, Troy woman helpless as her American children suffer

Dalila Yeend speaks to The Alt via video call from an ICE detention facility near Buffalo. 

Dalila Yeend has sat in a federal ICE detention facility for over a month while her mother has taken care of her two young children. She knows her children miss her terribly. Their lives have been unmoored by her disappearance. And yet Yeend does not want them to make the four-hour drive to visit her.

It would be difficult for them see me like this. My son wouldn’t know how to process it,” she says, sitting in front of a video monitor, her head leaning in to avoid the din of the room she shares with about 60 female detainees who mostly do not speak English.

She’s dressed in a white t-shirt, surrounded by sterile white walls. “I don’t want them to see me this way. They have no-contact visits where you look at each other through glass walls and talk to each other through phones. And it’s only an hour-long visit so it’s not really worthwhile.”

Yeend’s children, 9-year-old Taquan, who lives with multiple disabilities, and 11-year-old Savannah, are American citizens. Yeend and her mother, Monique de Latour, who has been caring for the children, say they are suffering. Further, they say that ICE and federal authorities have shown no regard for the children’s wellbeing through the entire ordeal.

Yeend encourages her friends and loved ones to use a video chat service to reach her in prison, but it’s both unreliable and costly. A caller must place funds in an account on gettingout.com. A deposit is met with solicitations to donate a few dollars more to get an extra message free, or a couple more minutes. Detainees’ accounts are charged 20 cents per minute, and video chats are limited to 15 minutes. A taste of freedom has a very clear price for Yeend.

Last week Yeend had a brief flash of good news after days not knowing how long her detainment would last or if she’d be suddenly deported. Her attorney’s application for a hold on deportation was granted, and another motion to reopen Yeend’s application for citizenship was approved. For a minute there was light at the end of the tunnel—and then, just as quickly as that light came, it got pulled further into the distance.

The date for the hearing on her citizenship application is scheduled for late November. Yeend’s request to be released, however, was rejected. Her case was moved back to the judge based in the Buffalo detention center and Yeend was issued new papers stating that she had been re-detained for a new 90-day period.

Yeend will have to go before the judge and ask for bond. The judge could reject that request. If they grant it, it is likely to range anywhere from $7,000 to $75,000, and Yeend hasn’t been working for over a month. If she provides a portion of the bond and pays in installments, it’s likely she’ll be released with an ankle bracelet.

Troy police initially stopped Yeend in late May for rolling through a stop sign. They charged her with driving without a license (as an undocumented immigrant, Yeend can’t legally hold a license) and kept her locked up overnight. In the morning a judge released her but Troy police didn’t allow her to leave for another hour. It was enough time for an ICE agent to arrive with a warrant for missing an appointment with immigration authorities. Yeend says she was frightened to attend the meeting given reports that ICE has been arresting and quickly deporting immigrants who are in the midst of naturalization proceedings.

It isn’t just her family who miss her. Her boss is holding her position as a manager at a local coffee chain. But as the days drag on, Yeend worries the position will have to be filled. Yeend’s friends who are members of the STEM running group that focuses on empowering women who have survived domestic violence paid hundreds of dollars to secure her legal representation. The local YMCA donated a free membership to her children. She says they both love to swim. Another organization donated LEGOs. “We’re so grateful,” says Yeend. 

The GoFundMe campaign de Latour started to cover her daughter’s legal costs and to support her children has raised $8,277 of its $12,000 goal. It is likely, though, that even $12,000 won’t be sufficient to cover legal costs, bond, and the care of Yeend’s children.

While Yeend’s current situation is tangled and complicated, her path through the immigration system leading up to her detainment is equally as fraught.

Yeend was only 17 when her mother brought her to the US on a New Zealand passport. She was legally here under her mother’s passport. From there, Yeend and her mother say she made a number of failed attempts to attain permanent citizenship. One immigration attorney, they say, stole thousands of dollars from them. In another case, a Buffalo-based attorney simply stopped practicing law in the middle of her application process.

Yeend was involved in seeking a green card in Buffalo, but the court insisted she retain a lawyer–something Yeend says she could not afford. Soon Yeend received paperwork saying she’d be deported. ICE agents required she check in every week. One particular agent forbade her from bringing her children with her to visits. Yeend says she saw other women in her situation bring their children to similar meetings.

Yeend believes this particular agent was hard on her because of his earlier interaction with her. She was arrested as part of a 2011 welfare fraud investigation in Rensselaer County but charges against her were eventually dropped.

Yeend, the survivor of an abusive relationship has the sole custody of her children and says she feels that has rarely been taken into consideration by the agents she’s dealt with.

This month, as news broke about the hundreds of ICE detainees being housed at Albany County Jail, Yeend inquired if perhaps she might be moved as well, to be closer to her children. She says she got no particular answer. Then she watched as detainees housed with her packed up and shipped to Albany.

She says she’s encouraged that there is more community activism around the issue. She recounts how her mother attended a Families Belong Together rally in Albany to spread word about her detainment only to be handed a flyer advocating her release from someone she didn’t know. But practically it is unclear what, if anything, that support will lead to. “People see a story and they think ‘That’s over.’ They move on,” says Yeend. “But I’m still here. Nothing has changed.”

Yeend does ponder the possibility that she’ll be released and allowed to return to the life she once lived, its what keeps her going. But even then she wonders what she will be returning to. Having seen just how tenuous her freedom is and how her children have suffered, “normal” now seems in many ways unattainable.

“My daughter is 11 and she reads the news. She is concerned, she’s asked me ‘What am I going to do when I go back to school? Everyone knows. They’re going to be talking about how my mom isn’t here. What do I tell them?’”

Yeend says she understands that the family separations and detainments at the border are hitting a nerve for some Americans but she wonders if anyone cares that her children have been left without a mother.

“It feels like my children don’t matter because they are not at the border, they are not in custody,” says Yeend. “My children do matter. They are Americans. So why don’t they matter to our government?”

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