Last week, Jovita Landa Mota, a mother and grandmother who has lived in the United States for seventeen years was released from immigration detention after three years of imprisonment. Jovita was detained for fourteen months by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, California. Meanwhile her five U.S. citizen children and grandchildren suffered the trauma of losing thier mother. Fran Montgomery, a volunteer with Detention Dialogues and CIVIC, visited Jovita on Friday’s for the past year and suggested that her case would benefit from a public campaign.
Reverand Deborah Lee with the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights took the lead and organized community members to visit the San Francisco Immigration Courthouse at 630 Sansome Street. About 30 community members attended this action, including Jovita’s attorney and requested to speak with the ICE deportation officer in charge of Jovita’s case. The ICE officer promised to review the case and consider Jovita’s community ties and support. After the first action, we never heard any news back from ICE after repeated attempts to contact them. We organized a follow up action to call for Jovita’s release. The press conference/rally was merged with the breaking of a 5 day fast undertaken by 11 students in solidarity with migrant children at the border. The fasters extended their solidarity to call for Jovita’s release. Yanelly, Jovita’s 19 year old dauhter who has been the primary caretaker for her younger siblings, traveled 10 hours to attend the rally along with her younger brother. She spoke of the pain of being separated from her mother. She also spoke of the hope she felt from the support of strangers helping her to advocate for her mother’s release.
Jovita has been released from immigration detention and united with her family. Unlike many others released from detention, Jovita is not required to wear an ankle monitoring bracelet while her application for a U-Visa, a special visa for survivors of domestic violence. proceeds. The decision to release Jovita was made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, who have broad powers of discretion and may release individuals from detention, even when immigration law states that a person must be manditorily detained without the ability to request bond and release from an immigration judge.
Please be in touch with Christina Mansfield of CIVIC (firstname.lastname@example.org) if any readers are interested in how to initiate similar advocacy efforts in your community. ICE will not use their power of prosecutiorial discretion without sustained community pressure. Also, I want to extend a special thanks to Fran Montgomery, Suzanne Llewellyn, Rev. Deborah Lee, and all of the community members who tirelessly advocated for Jovita’s release, including collecting 300 signiatures on a petition.