Demonstrators gathered here Nov. 7 to commemorate the 1-year anniversary of Siham Byah’s separation from her son, Naseem. Some 50 people gathered in Villa Victoria, the heart of Boston’s Puerto Rican community, and then marched to Peters Park, just blocks away from the house where Boston Police murdered Terrence Coleman in 2016.
Through the symbolism of its location and the words of those who spoke to the crowd, the rally highlighted the many ways that the U.S. government has torn families apart throughout its history. From slavery and the genocide of Indigenous nations to police killings and Immigration and Customs Enforcement terror, the U.S. government has always been separating children from their mothers, especially in communities of color.
The march reiterated the longstanding demands of the Justice4Siham campaign: that Siham and Naseem be given passports so the two can be reunited, that Naseem be given mental health care to help deal with the trauma of the separation, and that Siham be provided with a path to return to the U.S., where she had first moved to escape the repressive Moroccan government.
The rally was organized by the Justice4Siham Coalition and endorsed by a number of organizations, including FIRE (Fight for Im/migrants and Refugees Everywhere), Workers World Party, Cosecha Massachusetts, Harvard TPS Coalition, Jericho Boston and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
Siham speaks on her case
Before the march, Siham spoke to demonstrators via phone, reflecting on the long year since she was separated from her son.
On Nov. 7, 2017, when Siham went in for a routine check-in with immigration services she was instead met by ICE agents. She was sent to the detention center in Bristol County, Mass., whose sheriff Thomas Hodgson is known for the history of abuse, medical neglect and inhumane conditions in his jail.
Her son Naseem was immediately taken into the custody of the Department of Children and Families. He was never allowed to visit his mother in jail, and by the end of December, Siham had been deported to Morocco.
On the phone, Siham described the last time she saw her son: “I got his lunch together and I gave him breakfast. He kissed me. He was going to walk to school. I kissed him back and I told him to be good, to listen to his teacher, and that I would see him after school. I never thought in a million years that this could happen.”
Naseem has since been placed with his biological father and has not been allowed to have consistent communication with his mother.
Before she was deported, Siham was an activist and an organizer in Boston, which she believes made her an early target of Trump’s assault against im/migrants: “My biggest crime, for which I have been persecuted and still am, is that I have a voice and I lend it to those in need and put my money where my mouth is. And I happened to be an immigrant.”
Justice4Siham means justice for all im/migrants
Siham emphasized that the activists gathered there represented the fight for “every immigrant family that has been torn apart at the hands of ICE, which has proven to be nothing more than a tool in the hands of this imperialist system that continues to suck us dry.”
Many of the speakers, im/migrants themselves, spoke to the broader struggle to defend im/migrants in this country. Speakers included Puerto Rican activist Martha Rodriguez, Bishop Filipe Teixeira and members of Jericho Boston and Cosecha Massachusetts.
Doris Landaverde, a custodian at Harvard and an organizer with the Harvard TPS Coalition, spoke about the struggles of immigrant workers who have Temporary Protective Status. Since taking office, Trump has announced an end to TPS status for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Sudan and Nepal.
Landaverde spoke of the fears of hundreds of thousands of TPS holders, and millions more without a legal status, of being torn away from their children, who were born in the U.S. She noted that she and millions of others “came to this country because we thought we would be free. Now we’re feeling the same fear we felt in our countries.”
She also spoke about the need for solidarity and unity to overcome the current crisis: “We have to support Siham. We have to support immigrants. We have to support the Black community. We have to support Muslims. Because all these struggles are our struggles. If we can work together, we can fight!”
A mother herself, Landaverde emphasized the pain that Siham has felt during a year of separation. “I can’t imagine. One year without seeing her kid. I feel like, now its 8 o’clock and I want to see my kids. Can you imagine one year? These people don’t have a heart.”