Activists rally in protest of single mother’s deportation

Activists rally in protest of single mother’s deportation
Protesters and counter protesters gather outside of the JFK building over a single mother's deportation./ Photo by Alex Melangrano.

By Caroline Boschetto, news correspondent

Despite the wind and static, Siham Byah’s words rang clear in the cold air. The pain in the single mother’s tone was undeniable, but her voice did not break. A truly seasoned organizer and activist, she radiated strength and articulate indignation.

“Enough is enough!” the 40-year-old former Nahant resident shouted.

This time, however, she was not speaking as part of the Occupy Boston coalition or protesting the occupation of Palestine. Byah was addressing the crowd remotely over the phone from Morocco as part of a rally held to protest her own deportation and separation from her 8-year-old son.

Activists and organizers from the Free Siham coalition joined to host the event, called Justice4Siham, on Sunday in front of the JFK Federal Building, which houses Boston’s immigration courts. The rally featured speakers from a variety of local organizations, some of whom shared their own stories and talked about why they think it is important to take action against deportations.

The Free Siham organizers come from local organizations including Boston Feminists for Liberation, International Socialist Organization, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Boston May Day Coalition, Boston Socialist Alternative, Great Boston Chapter: Green-Rainbow Party and Workers World Party. Many of the individuals involved in the coalition know Byah personally and have worked with her on activist projects in the past.

“We wanted to start here outside of the immigration courts of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] because we wanted to directly confront the building and make that connection,” said organizer Kim Barzola, a 22-year-old resident of Jamaica Plain and member of the Party of Socialism and Liberation. “They’re the ones who are carrying out these deportations, perpetrating this violence we’re seeing, tearing families apart.”

The eclectic group of protesters then marched through the city to the Massachusetts State House while shouting chants including, “No borders, no nations, stop deportations.”

Byah lived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant for 18 years prior to her unexpected detention and arrest Nov. 7, 2017, when she went to the ICE office in Burlington, Massachusetts for a yearly check-in. She was detained at Bristol County Jail in Dartmouth until she was transferred to a detention facility in Virginia on Dec. 27 and then deported to Morocco, her country of birth, that same day.

According to a press release issued by the Free Siham coalition, during her period of imprisonment, Byah was denied contact with her lawyer and family on several occasions, denied hygiene products and proper nutrition, lied to by authorities about her deportation status and kept in solitary confinement.

“We really believe that this whole process has been illegal and inhumane at every step of the way,” Barzola said.

Byah’s son Naseem, a U.S. citizen, was taken into the custody of Department of Children and Families and placed into a foster home following his mother’s arrest. He was recently relocated to the care of his biological father. According to a letter written by Byah from jail on Nov. 10, 2017, authorities have disregarded her wishes for her son to be placed with the individuals whom she had selected instead of his father.

The coalition’s website, justice4siham.com, says it is the group’s belief that Byah was targeted for deportation because of her political views and activism.

“We understand that this isn’t an isolated incident and we know ICE has now begun to target more political activists,” Barzola said. “We want to make it clear that if this happens, we’re not going to just let it slide by, especially when it’s someone in our community.”

At the start of the protest, a group of six counter-protesters arrived as well, holding American flags and a sign that read “Resist Marxism.”

The Justice4Siham protesters and the counter-protesters approached one another and began shouting competing chants.

The right-wing counter-protesters’ cheers included “Trump’s our president,” “We will enforce borders” and “U.S.A.”

The Justice4Siham protesters responded with “No wall, no fear, immigrants are welcome here” and “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, right-wing bigots go away”

During her speech, Byah directly addressed the counter-protesters, condemning their behavior.

“I will hold you accountable for every tear of agony that falls from my child’s eye,” Byah said. “Is your hatred worth this? Worth a child feeling the way he feels right now?”

Police arrived on the scene and formed a human wall between the two groups. They remained until the protest group began its march toward the Massachusetts State House. No violent confrontation took place.

“We’re not trying to infringe on anyone’s amendment rights,” said Sgt. Steve Moy, one of the officers at the event. “We just want to make sure that both sides are safe and that the general public who have no idea what’s going on is safe.”

Laura Mendelberg, a 32-year-old resident of Arlington, Massachusetts, said she attended the protest in order to support Byah and take a stand against racism.

“My grandparents were immigrants and some of them were Holocaust survivors. I see a really big parallel between how the U.S. treated the Jews who were trying to escape the Holocaust and how the U.S. is now treating people who are trying to escape a lot of other countries where there are wars and conflicts,” she said. “It’s the same kind of white supremacy and racism and it’s really important to stand up against it and say these people belong here.”

Jillian Daniels, a 29-year-old resident of Somerville, Massachusetts, decided to attend the event after hearing about it on Facebook.

“I’m here because one of the most despicable legal things the U.S. can do is separate a mother from her child,” she said. “If we don’t do something now I think we’re headed to some very dark times.”

The Justice4Siham protest was one of multiple events the coalition has organized for the Free Siham movement. In January, they held another protest, as well as a five-day phone banking campaign to pressure elected officials to reunite Byah and her son.  

On Feb. 3, Free Siham is hosting a benefit at social justice event center Makeshift on Columbus Avenue to raise funds for Siham’s legal fees.

“This is a very expensive endeavor,” Barzola said. “That just shows how rotten this whole process is. If you have more money you have better support and you can better navigate the situation.”

The coalition’s press release states that it is seeking for six demands to be met in order to provide justice for Byah. These include specific demands such as allowing Byah and her son be allowed to freely communicate whenever they wish, to loftier cries for justice such as “ICE immediately stop terrorizing our communities and ripping apart families.” The full list of demands can be found on the Justice4Siham website.

In a stinging final statement toward the right-wing counter protesters, Byah’s voice boomed through the speaker.

“I just want to thank you guys for exposing the ugly face of immigration. The ugly face of hatred. The ugly face of capitalism. The ugly face of greed. Because this is what it comes down to. Greed. Pure and simple.”

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