Sitting on the couch in the crook of his mother’s arm in their Everett apartment, his two hands wrapped tight around hers, 10-year-old Anthony said it had been hard to be away from her for 99 days – from Jan. 30 to early May — after she was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Since I grew up I would always be around my mom, mostly everywhere she goes,” he said, “and it didn’t feel right when she wasn’t always by my side.”
He missed her at bedtime, in the morning, walking him down the street to school. He missed her lasagna.
Said Anthony’s mom, Lucimar de Souza, “He’d ask me on the phone, ‘When are you coming home?’ ‘Two weeks,’ I’d say. Two weeks passed. He’d say, ‘Two weeks is up.’ ‘Two more weeks,’ I’d say. Then two more weeks passed. Then three. I had to tell him, ‘I don’t know when I’m coming home.’ ”
Then Anthony, a fourth-grader who believed in Santa Claus until just last year, asked his mother, “Can I stay in prison with you?”
Perhaps you’re among the 698,000 who have viewed the wrenching video on the ACLU of Massachusetts website. It shows de Souza, an undocumented immigrant from Brazil, reuniting with Anthony when she was finally released from Suffolk County Jail. Anthony wraps his arms around her, and wails.
In an unusual move, US District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf played the video in court for Thomas Brophy, the acting director of the Boston field office of ICE. Wolf asked Brophy whether it demonstrated for him “the profound human consequences” of the government’s arresting and detaining, at government offices, without proper procedure, immigrants like De Souza, who has been trying to gain legal status after marrying US citizen Sergio Francisco, a construction worker. Following Wolf’s dressing down, the unlawful detainments stopped, at least in Boston, which makes Anthony and his mother luckier than immigrant families elsewhere.
Appearing before Wolf, de Souza was represented by ACLU lawyers. She may still be deported. But for now she’s with her family, unlike those families being ripped apart at the border in a Trump administration directive condemned as cruel and abusive by the United Nations, Catholic bishops, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, and even Franklin Graham, the pro-Trump evangelical zealot, who called the practice “disgraceful.”
Still, Anthony’s lingering hurt offers some insight into the damage being done to border children, including, now, even breastfeeding infants.
For five years Anthony has lived in the same immaculate apartment, with roses out front and the cozy kitchen where de Souza served coffee and cheese bread one day last week. There’s been a stable routine — the Christmas tree in the corner, the birthday party at Sky Zone Trampoline Park, “The Garfield Show,” the FIFA video games.
With her gone, de Souza said, “His teacher said Anthony was upset. . . . His behavior changed. He started to push his friends.”
He’d come home from school and stay in his room. Did he want to go play, his cousin asked. No. Ride to the mall? Not that either.
With de Souza back home, it’s still hard for Anthony. De Souza tells him she’ll be back from her housekeeping job at 5 p.m. If she’s a minute late, he calls. “ ‘Where are you?’ Now he wants to sleep with me every night.” If she’s deported she will not leave Anthony again. But taking him means leaving behind his father, a large extended family, and all that is home.
Sitting in this Everett apartment, with family pictures filling the bookcase and the family Shih Tzu begging for cheese bread, it’s hard to fathom the Trump administration’s intense loathing for women like de Souza. She’s in the situation she’s in only because she was not lucky enough to be born here, in the United State. Who wouldn’t do all they could for their child? It’s hard to fathom, too, how quickly America has become a country that condones such cruelty, even to babies.
Yet Lucimar de Souza says, still, “I love the United States, even though this thing happened. This is a safe place, a place where you can dream. And if you work hard for your dream,” she said, her son still pressed to her side, “your dream can come true.”
Margery Eagan is cohost of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”