Indigenous Teenage Girl & Father Finally Free to Go Home
By Chelsea Barrera, Refugees Campaign Intern, Amnesty International USA
On 23 March 2018, after over a month behind bars, Astrid and Arturo were finally released from the Berks family detention center in Leesport, Pennsylvania! This all started when the lawyers at Aldea — The People’s Justice Center learned of this family’s senseless detention, took on their case, and contacted Amnesty International USA to advocate for their release.
Astrid and Arturo came to the U.S. in February 2015 after fleeing from Guatemala, where discrimination and violence against Indigenous K’iche is institutionalized and widespread. When they arrived at the U.S. southern border, they were detained by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and released the following day. Three years later, on 20 February 2018, despite establishing new roots and community ties in Easton, Pennsylvania, Astrid and Arturo were forcibly awoken by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in the middle of the night, taken into custody, and locked up at Berks.
For months, Astrid had been eagerly planning to celebrate her March 15 birthday surrounded by friends and family, but instead found herself isolated as the only teenage girl in a mostly male detention center. Astrid spent her quinceañera — a cultural tradition celebrating a girl’s coming of age at 15 — detained at Berks. Traditionally, most fathers and quinceañeras have a father-daughter dance on this special day, but Astrid and Arturo spent it behind bars wishing for their freedom. All she wanted now was to return to middle school where her favorite subject is math. She spent her birthday in a Berks classroom for children 12 and up, voluntarily translating the alphabet for other indigenous K’iche kids. Trying to make the day a little more special, her lawyers and teachers from Easton Area Middle School surprised her with cupcakes, nail polish, and birthday cards.
Amnesty supporters took action, hoping to fulfill Astrid’s birthday wish for her and her father’s freedom as they pursue their claim for asylum. After being held in detention for over a month, both Astrid and Arturo were finally released from detention on 23 March 2018.
Their release came after their attorneys at Aldea successfully petitioned for their asylum case to be reopened and filed a request for their parole, and the delivery of over 78,000 signed petitions from Amnesty supporters around the world. Thanks to the efforts of activists like you, Amnesty International USA also generated more than 1,600 phone calls to the Philadelphia ICE Field Office urging its director to release the family.
Astrid and Arturo are finally able to return to their home and community in Easton. Astrid is excited to return to her eighth-grade classes and catch up on the homework she loves so much.
This was truly a global effort and speaks to the strength of the global movement. Thank you to Amnesty members and supporters who took action for Astrid and Arturo’s releases.
But the fight’s not over yet! This story is just one of many within the larger issue of the U.S. administration trying to deter, punish, and criminalize those seeking safety here, including through the inhumane practice of family detention. We must continue to stand up for families like Astrid and Arturo who are being imprisoned every day for seeking safety.