Well over 100 people crowded onto the lawn outside the John F Kennedy Federal Building in Boston, Massachusetts to demand the release of Siham Byah from United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention.
Byah, an undocumented 40-year old Muslim woman with an eight-year old son who is an American citizen was taken into custody Tuesday during a routine check-in with ICE, according to her lawyer, Matthew Cameron, in a statement. Since being taken into custody, Byah has gone on a hunger strike. She will refuse to eat until she is released and reunited with her son. Many attending the rally committed to going on hunger strikes as well, in solidarity with Byah.
The rally was organized by Cosecha Boston and IfNotNow Boston. IfNotNow Boston is a movement “to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation and gain freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians” while Cosecha Boston is a “non-violent movement working to win permanent protection, dignity, and respect for the 11 million undocumented people in this country.”
Those speaking at the rally did not think Byah was targeted randomly. “Siham has been an outspoken advocate for social justice, LGBTQ rights, and Arab Spring movements against repressive Middle Eastern regimes,” wrote the organizers in a statement. “She has been threatened with death and violence for her criticisms of the Moroccan government; deporting her to Morocco would put her life at risk.”
Byah’s lawyer also thinks the detention is politically motivated, writing, “We were informed at the check-in that this decision was not made by the New England Field Office, and that it had come directly from DC. We have still not been provided with any reason why they have chosen to treat Siham this way, and must assume that it is politically-motivated.”
The organizers report:
“Siham Byah, a 40-year old citizen of Morocco and mother to an eight-year old US citizen son, was detained after a regular check in with immigration authorities the morning of November 7th. She has lived in the United States since 1999, and is a resident of Nahant, MA. We are taking legal action to stop her deportation, but are demanding Siham’s immediate release from custody.
“She has been attending check-ins regularly for the past three years with no issues. We are shocked that she was taken into custody with no warning, which is not standard ICE policy.”
Since Byah’s detention, there are unconfirmed reports that ICE has detained at least one other undocumented Moroccan national. There is such fear in the Moroccan community that no one felt safe speaking at the rally.
Byah’s brother, Nizar, had family friend Malika MacDonald, an American Muslim woman, read a statement:
“The reasons behind my sister being detained remain unexplained.
“My family and I are both shocked and devastated about my sister being detained.
It will be even more devastating if she is deported, especially for my 8 year old nephew.
“Siham loves this country, and it is why we have both emigrated here. She has always practiced the first amendment by voicing her opinion about her political views. Also practiced the right for assembly by being part of peaceful rallies.
“We hope that she will be released soon so that she can go home to her son and also hope that her immigration status will be adjusted permanently so that she can continue living in the US and raised her beautiful boy.”
Byah’s son is in state care. Malika MacDonald said that the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families (DCF) has not supplied information about the status of the boy, other than to say that he is in foster care. “DCF will not allow him to go to the family that Siham has requested he be placed with,” said MacDonald. “An eight-year old boy. His mother has been taken away. This is what he came home from school to.”
“I’ve known Siham and her son for six years, and she’s the loving and committed parent that every child deserves,” said Charlotte Badler, a friend of Byah’s and a pediatric primary care nurse in Boston. “As a pediatric nurse who talks to DCF workers every day, I know how many at-risk kids they are trying to care for. There’s no reason our country should be breaking apart such a vibrant, supportive family to add another kid to the foster system.”
Social media is one way to put pressure on the government and secure Byah’s release, said her attorneys.
Here’s the rest of the video and some pictures from the rally: