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Dailila Yeend is free from ICE detention but not free from fear

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Dailila Yeend is free from ICE detention but not free from fear

Early in the morning of Aug. 16, Dalila Yeend was dropped off at a Citgo Station that is home to a fried chicken joint and an assortment of tourist knick knacks. She’d spent the last two months of her life imprisoned by ICE, wearing an orange jumpsuit, wondering when she’d next see her children, always with the thought in the back of her mind that this could be the day that she’d be deported. Confronted with her freedom and the fact that none of her friends or family expected she’d be free anytime soon, she asked the ICE agent what she was supposed to do. “You aren’t our responsibility anymore,” they told her.

Yeend was sent to the Batavia facility in late May after allegedly rolling through a stop sign. Yeend, who immigrated from Australia when she was a teenager, has had a number of false starts in her attempts to attain citizenship. She was told early on in her detention that she’d be deported despite the fact that she has two young American-born children, and that she’s never actually tried to evade immigration authorities. Her lawyer Siana McLean has repeatedly stated that in normal circumstances Yeend never would have been detained, as she is the sole caretaker of her children.

She was roused that morning at 7 A.M. and told to pack her things. She asked but they wouldn’t say where she was going. Was she headed to a new facility? Was she finally, after two months of captivity, being deported?

A fellow inmate told her it was better not to ask questions. She heeded the advice and waited to discover her fate. “You’re going home,” a staff member eventually told her. “My home, where my children are?” she asked. “Yes,” came the response.

Yeend was given one call before being escorted from the building. She called her mother Monique de Latour, who was in the bathroom as the call came in. She didn’t answer. Yeend asked for another call. “You got your call,” she was told.

De Latour saw she’d missed a call from the detention facility. “They never call,” she says. The communications system that allows inmates to connect to the outside world had gone down multiple times during Yeend’s stay. The phones were down the days preceding her release. So de Latour scrambled, thinking her daughter might be being deported. She called the ICE facility and was stonewalled. She called her lawyer. Finally, after pressing someone at the facility, she found out her daughter had been dropped at “a gas station.” There are dozens of gas stations in Batavia.

De Latour began calling gas stations and eventually she reached the Citgo and spoke to Yeend. She then got in the car with her grandchildren and drove the 255 miles to Batavia.

Yeend was elated to finally see her children. But there was a sense that her freedom could end at any second. “I didn’t sleep the first few nights because I thought I might wake up and find that I was still in there,” Yeend says. “When I was in there I’d dream that I was free and with my kids and then I’d wake up and realize where I was. I didn’t want that to happen again.”

Yeend is excited to be home as her children start a new school year—a possibility she’d already written out of her mind. Now there isn’t much else for her to focus on. She’s been given an ankle bracelet monitor that officials initially told her will stay on for at least a year. She’s since been told by the officer overseeing her case that it could come off in September as long as she doesn’t work or drive. She is allowed to travel as long as someone else is doing the driving but depending on others isn’t easy.

“I keep thinking back to times when my lawyer told me I’d be released but I wasn’t and that heartbreak. I don’t want to be disappointed. I don’t trust them. So if I go and they don’t take it off, I’m not going to be heartbroken.”

She says she won’t ever get used to having people stare at the large ankle bracelet and wonder, “What terrible thing did she do?”

She has to periodically check in with a case worker. And she can’t actually work to provide for her two children.

Undocumented immigrants can’t access drivers licenses in New York. Twelve other states including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Hawaii, Colorado and Maryland have laws that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain some sort of permission to operate a vehicle.

It’s taking some time to adjust to not having to communicate to her kids through a video screen, not walking around in an orange jumpsuit. The uncertainty about her fate remains, though. “I don’t take anything for granted. I’m doing a lot of cooking, cleaning, spring cleaning, my best friend is driving me around. My friends say I should sell meals to make a little money but I don’t want to risk it.”

She and de Latour believe it was the attention from the press and social media that has given them the tools to prevent her deportation.

“If it wasn’t for social media and the articles and outlets that covered this…I don’t know what I’d be doing to be honest,” said Yeend. Donations to the family’s GoFundMe account have paid for legal representation and her children’s care. The family raised over $9,000.

Yeend is recognized repeatedly as I speak to her and her family at a Panera Bread near Hudson Valley Community College. An employee familiar with her story offers the family free pastries. A woman going through the drive-through wishes them well.

Yeend recently visited Troy City Court to deal with the traffic violation that lead to her two-month ordeal. The case had been dismissed. “The clerk told me she was sorry for what I had to go through,” says Yeend, who is grateful but also frustrated. “It’s like I was in there for nothing.”

Yeend’s legal struggles continue. She is scheduled for a trial date of Sept. 27 for her deportation, but her lawyer is pushing for its dismissal so that Yeend can simply apply for a Green Card, a process that could take years.

De Latour helped her granddaughter Savannah start a new GoFundMe campaign to assist with the family’s expenses. There will be a welcome home celebration at Prospect Park in Troy from 6-8 P.M. today.

In the end, Yeend isn’t sure why she was let go. Her lawyers motions to have her released were curtly denied.

A letter she received from ICE field Director Thomas Feeley only states, “Based on information received, and other information contained in your immigration file, and in light of our discretionary authority, we are granting your request for parole.”

Yeend signed documents allowing Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Paul Tonko speak to ICE on her behalf, but it’s not clear if they had any impact on her release. 

“At this point I’m just glad to be home with my kids. It feels good to be able to kiss them, to be able to hug them.”

I ask Yeend that if this point she still has faith in the United States. If after all this does it feel like it is worth fighting to stay? Yeend says there was a point early in her detention when she asked her lawyer to expedite her deportation so that she could see her kids as soon as possible. But things changed.

“I’ve been here 18 years and I love the county. At this point I’m American. But I don’t know that I have faith in the country, in the government. I’m still very weary about what’s going to happen. I could be deported at anytime. So in the meantime I have to prepare. I have to get (apply for) my children’s passports and be ready because I wasn’t ready last time.”

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