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Friends rally for Diaz family miracle

Vigil supports family facing deportation Oct. 10
by: Jonathan House, The Diaz family lit candles with dozens of other supporters and friends Wednesday evening during a vigil opposing their deportation next week.

Friends, neighbors, former teachers and church members of the Diaz family gathered Wednesday night in an effort to keep the Beaverton family from being torn apart.

Their hope is that the peaceful rally and candlelight vigil will grab the attention needed to encourage government leaders and immigration officials to halt deportation proceedings that would force Irma Diaz and her two oldest children - Luis Jr., 21, and Monica, 20, - to return Tuesday to their native Guatemala.

The rally at Beaverton's Heritage Village Manufactured Home Community and an ambitious letter writing campaign to President Bush are the last hope for keeping the family in the United States until the final decision is rendered on Luis Diaz Sr.'s political asylum application.

'It means so much to us that people want to help,' said Luis Diaz Sr. 'I still can't believe this is happening to us.

'This has been our home for 15 years. I hope this rally will help us keep my family together like we are right now.'

His wife Irma agreed. 'Maybe the miracle we are waiting for is coming.'

While Monica prepared to share her family's story during the rally, the aspiring teacher talked about her own hopes for the rally.

'We want to get more attention,' Monica said. 'People in our community are concerned about us. We want to get President Bush's attention and Congress' attention to show (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials that this is a big deal and that it's important for us to stay.'

The idea of returning to a country that her family fled in fear more than a decade ago scares Monica.

'In my heart I am an American,' she said. 'This is my home, my community, my country.

'This is where my life is. This is where I have dreams for my future that I know I will be able to work toward. But all of those dreams will disappear if I'm forced to get on that plane on Tuesday. Unfortunately, that choice for my future is out of my hands.'

Voicing frustration

Residents of Beaverton's Heritage Village Manufactured Home Community, members of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Aloha, Portland Community College students and the staff of Elmonica Elementary School are among the supporters rallying around the Diaz family.

'It is an absolute human tragedy to rip this family apart - for a daughter to be denied her mother at the age of 11 and for two upstanding young adults to be sent to a country with little to no future,' said Nikki Hurtado, who helped organize the rally.

'The community supports this family and their struggle - their battle to stay together. We feel we cannot stand by and stoically watch this atrocity without at the very least voicing our frustration that our government is so at odds with this issue that it has resorted to breaking apart families and sending away the very kind of citizens that this country so needs for a better future.'

Tish Shinn, an English as a second language teacher at Elmonica Elementary and longtime friend of the family, agreed.

'This is a family that learned the language, paid taxes and are contributing members of this community - and they have been for more than 10 years,' Shinn said. 'The only thing this family lacks is an authentic piece of paper that says they are citizens.

'They may not be citizens of this country yet, but they are part of this community. It makes no sense to send them back.'

Especially Luis Jr. and Monica who were raised in Beaverton, she said.

Monica, a student at Portland Community College and 2005 Westview High School graduate, has volunteered in Shinn's classroom for several years.

The 20-year-old works at an embroidery shop in Cedar Mill with her mother to pay for school and dreams of becoming a teacher and elementary school principal.

Monica's older brother Luis Jr. has dreams of his own.

The 2003 Westview High School graduate holds two jobs and would like to return to his college studies.

'My dream is to have my own business and be able to support myself,' Luis Jr. said. 'I want to live here and be happy. Finishing college has always been my dream because I want to be somebody.'

Both are also dedicated to helping their parents care for their younger sister Jennifer, who was born in the United States.

The uncertainty of their future breaks Shinn's heart.

'They are no longer Guatemalan children,' Shinn said. 'They are American children and have no connection to that culture or society.

'Going back there will be so alien to them - it will be even more difficult as well as dangerous for them going back without the protection of their father.'

Praying for change

Shinn feels it's important for the community to stand up for the Diaz family.

'Not everyone has the opportunity to make great change in the world,' she said. 'But this is an easy opportunity to have a lasting impact on one family that would go on to make a positive impact in our community.'

As Tuesday's deadline nears, the family continues to pray for a 'miracle.'

'We feel like the people on the Titanic,' Irma said. 'The only thing I can think about is for us to be saved.

'I thought this was the Promised Land for everybody, now I'm starting to feel like it's not and that breaks my heart.'

She prays for a change in immigration laws.

'I pray that they stop the deportations, not just for us but for all the families that are like us,' Irma said. 'There are a lot of kids ending up without their moms and without their dads.'

What will it take to keep them in the U.S.?

'The ultimate decision is in the hands of the political branches,' said Tilman Hasche, the family's immigration attorney.

U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has to follow the regulations and priorities set by the president and congressional leaders, he added.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has already provided the family with two extensions to allow U.S. Rep. David Wu and his staff to move a private bill through the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims.

Wu, a Hillsdale Democrat who represents Oregon's 1st Congressional District, attempted to pass H.R. 5745, a private bill to postpone deportation of Irma, Luis Jr. and Monica Diaz until Luis Sr.'s political asylum appeal is decided.

Although Chairman John Hostettler and Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee took an interest in the Diaz family's plight, the bill died in committee when no hearing was scheduled.

The family got a third extension last month after an unforeseen glitch with airline tickets. They were given an additional 30 days to either resolve an issue of gaining permission to enter Mexico or purchase other tickets that would take them on an alternate route to Guatemala.

That extension expires Tuesday.

'At this point the only people that can tell ICE not to move forward is the president or his Secretary for Homeland Security Michael Chertoff,' Hasche said. 'There are two reasons they could justify taking that action - Luis Sr.'s appeal is pending and it looks like in this term or the next we're going to get some kind of immigration reform.

'President Bush supports immigration reform. The leaders of the Senate support immigration reform. And, a significant body of representatives in the House support immigration reform that includes finding a solution for the 12 million undocumented immigrants that are otherwise law-abiding, productive members of our community, paying their own way just like the Diaz family.'

The Diaz family's story illustrates the need for reform, he added.

'I think this family embodies in a nutshell the whole problem of the undocumented population living in our midst, cooking our food, picking our crops, building our houses, working as secretaries,' Hasche said. 'They are our neighbors going to church with us, sending their kids to school with our kids, sharing our dreams for a better society.

'These are people anyone would agree would make great citizens of this country. All we have to do is figure out a way to get them on the team and into the club.'

What can people do to help?

Family supporters invite people to write letters and call their congressmen, senators and local legislators, and ask them to urge President Bush to stop the deportation of the Diaz family.

Letters can also be sent to the president at The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 20500. Calls can be made to the White House switchboard, 202-456-1414, or to the comment line, 202-456-1111.