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How I Fight For My Family

Celeste Addai had never given much thought to immigration issues–until her Ghanaian husband had to flee in the middle of the night.

Silhouette photo by Hamish Irvine

Photo by Hamish Irvine

There are days when I have to reassure my 6-year-old son that his dad wants to live with us but can’t. I don’t know how to explain it to him. I can’t say that his father can’t come home because he might be taken to jail. My son believes bad guys go to jail.

When I met my son’s father, my husband, he was a better student than I could ever be. He first came to the United States from Ghana in 1991. He studied computer science but had to leave school because of financial problems, which made him ineligible for a student visa.

He was afraid to return to Ghana. In the late 1980s, he protested against the president, Jerry Rawlings, and was jailed and tortured for three months. So my husband hired a lawyer and applied for asylum. But the lawyer was corrupt and negligent. He didn’t file necessary paperwork or answer my husband’s phone calls, and he missed deadlines. Because of this lawyer, my husband was denied asylum.

We hoped we would get a fresh start after we got married, but we learned that his case was already sealed and he could be deported at any time. The courts gave him voluntary departure, but he felt that he was wronged and chose to stay and fight. After 9/11, immigration policies became strict, and we were unable to convince the court to reopen his case.

On January 10, 2007, about 5:30 A.M., we woke to hostile knocks at our door. Our son was 2 years old and still sleeping in our bed. They knocked for 10 minutes and flashed lights through the window. When I peeked out the window, I saw agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). One of them held a picture of my husband. My husband and I whispered to each other in the dark, and I told him I wouldn’t open the door.

That morning, I felt like my world had completely changed and our family was torn apart. The ICE agents left but came back three hours later claiming to look for someone else who was not my husband. Before they returned, my husband left on foot, taking only his computer and the clothes on his back. He hasn’t been home since. We didn’t have time to say goodbye. Now, about an hour, once a week, is all we have together. Our family meets in secret. We try to make this time about our son and what he likes. When he wants to play soccer, we play soccer.

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It’s easy to be overwhelmed with my life as a single mother and to assume that no one really understands my situation. In 2009, I joined an organization called OneAmerica, which encourages public advocacy for immigrant communities and immigration reform. I met other families who have endured similar struggles. And I was given the tools to share my story with those who didn’t understand. This year, I participated in a march for immigration reform with OneAmerica on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and I felt like I was a part of history.

Before meeting my husband, I never thought about immigration issues. I recently started working toward a Master’s in Social Work, so I can help immigrants and other families in my situation. This wasn’t the way that I had expected to find my purpose, but I know that I am setting an example for my son to stand up for what’s right, and I know that my husband is proud of me.


Tiffany-Ran.jpgTiffany Ran interviewed Celeste Addai for What Happy Families Know, the Winter 2011 issue of YES! Magazine.  Tiffany is an editorial intern at YES!

 

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