A Chinese Family Torn Apart by ICE

Yu Mei Chen, holding a poster with a picture of her family, and her husband’s lawyer, Yee Ling Poon, in black, at the June 18 rally. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

[Editor’s update: At 8:11 p.m. on June 20, the Asian American Federation released a statement saying that You would be released from the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), by order of the Southern District Court of New York,  “some time tonight.” The statement concluded: “The fight is not yet over and there is much more to do. Asian American Federation will continue working with Ms. (Yee Ling) Poon and her client following tonight’s celebratory announcement. Please stay tuned for next steps.”]

In past years, Yu Mei Chen and her husband Xiu Qing You often went to restaurants with their daughter and son on Father’s Day to celebrate with a good meal. This Father’s Day, last Sunday, when her 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son asked her why they were not celebrating as usual with their daddy, Chen’s heart was broken. “Daddy is too busy. He has to go to a faraway place to work,” Chen told them. But the children had figured that something was wrong from their mother’s sad eyes. “They cried and demanded to see their daddy,” said Chen, sobbing herself. You has been detained in an immigration detention center for almost a month. “He said people who were detained together with him had been deported one after another, and he was worried that he’d be next,” Chen said.

More than a hundred people from Chinese, Korean and many other communities as well as elected officials and their representatives gave their heartfelt support to the You family at a rally on June 18 at Foley Square. They called for immigration enforcement officials to release You and allow the family a reunion. “We’ll keep fighting until You is released,” participants vowed.

Chen and You both came to the U.S. from Changle County of Fujian province in China, she in 2005 and he 2000. They met in the U.S., tied the knot at a traditional wedding banquet following their hometown custom in 2007. They formally registered their marriage in 2013 when Chen was already a naturalized U.S. citizen. You had applied for political asylum earlier. He got a deportation order when his case was denied in 2002. After the marriage, Chen applied for a marriage-based green card for You.

You was scheduled for an interview for his green card application on May 23. The family went to the office of immigration services formally dressed on that day, and they were in a celebratory mood. Then, in the middle of the interview, totally unexpectedly, officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) showed up. You was arrested. “It was like the sky collapsed suddenly and fell on me,” Chen said.

Like many new immigrants, Chen and You have been working hard. They settled in Flushing. She runs a nail salon in Connecticut and he works in a restaurant in New York. Their biggest wish is to help their American-born children excel in this country. Their daughter has already started to learn piano and dancing. But the family’s American dream was crushed the moment You was pulled away.

“My daughter has stopped going to piano and dancing classes. It was Daddy who drove her to the classes before,” said Chen. “The kids cry everyday now asking where their daddy is. Daddy used to hold their hands and tell them stories every night when they went to bed. Now my daughter always says she is in fear at night.”

You calls his wife from the immigration detention center in New Jersey frequently. He often cries over the phone. “He has his passport with him (meaning a quick deportation is possible). When he saw people around him being deported one by one, he worried he may not be able to see the kids anymore,” Chen said.

As for herself, “I am under enormous pressure. I have to keep the nail salon open, take care of the kids, and I don’t know what’s going to happen to us in the future,” Chen said, her words broken by sobbing.

Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation, comforting Yu Mei Chen. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Yee Ling Poon, You’s lawyer, said that in the 27 years she has been practicing immigration law, this was the first time a marriage-based green card applicant was arrested during the interview. “In the past, even if you had a deportation order, as long as you were married to a U.S. citizen, you could always pass the interview and get the green card,” Poon said.

She said she has filed several petitions to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Board of Immigration Appeals, ICE and the U.S. court to reopen You’s political asylum case and request deferred action on deportation. But she hasn’t received any response so far.

The rally yesterday was organized by the Asian American Federation. Participants included representatives from not only Chinese community-based organizations such as the Chinese-American Planning Council, Asian Americans for Equality, CAAAV and the Hamilton-Madison House, but also those from Korean, Muslim and other communities. Elected officials such as U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Reps. Grace Meng, Nydia Velazquez, State Assembly members Yuh-Line Niou and Steve Otis, City Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson all sent representatives to attend the rally or issued statements condemning the Trump administration’s brutal immigration policy and demanding You’s release.

“This is our country. We cannot allow the government to separate our families,” said Council member Margaret Chin at the rally.

“This is brutal, unusual. It is a crime,” said John Park, executive director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action.

“It’s not going to be Asians standing up for Asians and Latinos standing up for Latinos. Things like this bring us all together,” said Muslim activist Linda Sarsour.

Chen, a petite and thin woman, seemed to be trying hard to hold herself together and chanted with the crowd: “Free Mr. You.” After the crowd dispersed, she slouched onto a sidewalk bench, put her head on the shoulder of Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation, and started weeping again.

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