Community rallies around mother and her children
Brian Sachs shares a home with his wife Heather and their two small children in Landenberg.
It's a busy house of happiness, filled with positive messages written in chalk on blackboards, photographs of the family that appear everywhere, baseball gloves waiting to be used near the front door and, owing to the number of exterior toys, the realization that the family driveway has been surrendered to the creativity of the home's youngest occupants.
So it was without great surprise that Sachs did what he did after he read the story of Landenberg resident Hever Puac Domingo in the May 25 edition of Philly.com. The story, written by staff writer Michael Matza, chronicled the plight of Loida Marival, the wife of Hever and the mother of two daughters: Jendy, a second-grader in the Kennett Consolidated School District who was born in Guatemala, and Esli, 20 months old, who was born in the United States.
On May 12, Loida was riding in a car driven by her husband in Lancaster County, when the Pennsylvania State Police asked Hever to pull over to the side of the road. After offering the only identification he had – a Guatemalan registration – police detained Hever for two hours. Because he was never issued a ticket, received no fine and had no prior criminal record, it remains unclear what the nature of the traffic violation was. Hever was then turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, and subsequently sent to York County Prison.
Loida is currently living in an apartment in Landenberg with her daughters.
After reading the story, Sachs communicated with Matza, who connected him with immigration attorney Lindsey Sweet of the Sweet & Paciorek law firm in Avondale, who is representing the Puac family.
“I saw the article and the photograph of a mother with two small children, and it really touched me,” he said. “We have two small children, as well. I thought, 'What can we as a community do to help this family?' I asked Lindsey what I could do to help, and she told me that the biggest need for the family was diapers for their 20-month-old.
Almost immediately, the Sachs family and many of their friends collected several hundred diapers, one of their neighbors brought over a large supply of pencils, markers, crayons and coloring books for the older daughter – and they dropped everything off at the law office. A few days later, Sachs created a GoFundMe account for the Puac family, connected it to his Facebook page, and set the original fundraising goal at $500.
“We blasted through that amount in a day and a half,” he said. “Then I thought, 'Let's make our goal $1,000.' I posted it on several community-based Facebook pages, like ICE-Kennett, Landenberg (You Can't Get There from Here) and Chester County Democrats.”
The account that Sachs began is serving as a silver lining in a cloud of reality that has enveloped Chester County. The arrest of Hever is just the tip of an iceberg that has turned Chester County into a startling example of the impact that ICE deportation efforts are having on the region. During the Feb. 27 – March 10 period alone, ICE officers arrested nearly 250 people in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia.
Sweet said that Puac's arrest has had a chilling effect on the relationship between the local Latino immigrant community and local law enforcement.
"I think the way in which Hever came into immigration custody -- by way of a state trooper calling ICE and having ICE take him into custody -- was extremely alarming to a lot of the Latino community, who felt that state and local police were protectors of all residents of the state, regardless of their immigration status, and that they could still rely on state and local police," she said. "There is a high level of fear because there was a feeling that if [an individual] did not commit crimes and come to the attention of ICE, it would be unlikely that [he or she] would come into contact with immigration."
Meanwhile, the facts involved in the arrest of Hever -- one of 300 immigration cases the Sweet & Paciorek firm is handling -- rest in determining whether or not the actions of the state trooper who detained Hever, and eventually contacted ICE, are legal. Sweet said that they are not.
"I don't know what transpired in Hever's exact situation, but if someone is pulled over by local law enforcement, [the officer] is technically not permitted to inquire into immigration status, because it's irrelevant to them completing their job, which is to enforce local and state laws," Sweet said.
Hever was recently deported from the United States – he is now back in Guatemala – and Loida is making plans to leave the U.S. and rebuild the family back in Guatemala. Although the GoFundMe account has now raised more than $2,200, with contributions coming from 57 people, its goal is now set at $5,000, in order to continue to pay for legal fees, food and services and, eventually, the transportation costs of traveling to Guatemala.
If the GoFundMe account Sachs created forms the money-raising component of support for the Puac family, then Kathleen Snyder serves as one of its key facilitators, lending connections, resources and stability.
In the past two months, Snyder has not only served as an interpreter for Loida, but as one of her primary caretakers, sharing duties with Juan Carlos Navarro, the pastor of Hispanic ministries at Faith Baptist Church in Delaware. Snyder and Loida speak to each other several times a week, and Snyder often drives and accompanies Loida on visits to the local grocery market, using funds made available through the GoFundMe account and other private donations.
"She's become my little sister," Snyder said.
Getting the Puac family together again is complicated and expensive. Obtaining the legal papers -- passports, statements, applications and birth certificates -- has become what Snyder calls "a comedy of errors," which is likely to postpone the departure of Loida and her children until the fall. Hever's passport has supposedly been turned over to Guatemalan authorities. Loida has applied for a passport, but it has yet to arrive from Guatemala. She also needs to obtain a notarized power of authority signed by Hever -- the absent parent -- to give her permission to get passports for their children and give her the authority to take the children on the plane.
"One bureaucracy is making the other one more complicated," Snyder said.
In an effort raise both awareness and funds, sharing news of the Puac family has been a concerted effort by groups and individuals, perhaps none more frequent and personal than the work being done by Kristie Brodowski, who has used social media to spread the message that funding is crucial.
In a recent post on ICE-Kennett's Facebook page, Brodowski linked the group's members to Sach's GoFundMe site, along with the following sentiment about Loida and her children: "They are facing numerous challenges simply attempting to follow him [Hever] back to Guatemala. There are issues with obtaining passports for the children; there is a huge financial burden placed on this family; and the emotional toll is huge.
"Regardless of the circumstances, this family will have to rebuild their life back in Guatemala. THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A SECOND. Your child has a bed here, a mattress, pots, pans, all of your possessions, and everything has to be sold or shipped to Guatemala. My mind immediately goes to the logistics of getting this family back to her husband. Do they have a car? What will they do with it? Do they have luggage? Can they ship their possessions back to Guatemala? The costs associated with this are high.
"This woman will be traveling alone with two small children to Guatemala to start her life over again. The unfairness of this situation is not lost on me."
"The power of social media is really connecting people," Brodowski said. "Collectively, we can do something bigger rather than what someone can do individually. I hate to say that it comes down to money, but a lot of times, issues like this can be resolved with some financial assistance. There is a large group of people who do want to help but don't know what the family's needs are. What I've been trying to do is to communicate these acute needs to other people."
Snyder recently took Loida to a meeting at Sweet & Paciorek, when Loida spotted a freight train go by on the railroad track directly behind the office.
"Loida pointed and said, 'You see that train? I came here on a train like that, riding on top of it, with Jendy tied to me so I wouldn't lose her,'" Snyder said, describing a journey that took mother and daughter from the northern reaches of Guatemala to Mexico, and eventually, the U.S. "How brave is this woman?
"Loida is so overwhelmed by the outpouring of love. She told me that 'While there have been people who have done some very bad things to us, the people in this community have been nothing but good.' She wants to meet Brian, so that she can thank him in person."
From his kitchen in Landenberg, Sachs hears his two children in other parts of the family home. One watches baseball highlights on television, while the other plays an interactive video game.
“I was a United States history major in college, and I always think about being on the right and wrong side of history, and I think the right side of history is finding a way to help these people,” Sachs said. “I don't think oppressing underprivileged and hardworking people is being on the right side of history.
“Heather and I both look at this time in terms of 'These are our years of service,'” he said. “When you're young, you worry about yourself, and when you're old, you're the one who needs the help. We're at the point of in between, and it's where we can do something to help people.”
To make a donation to the Puac family, visit www.gofundme.com/8rgfsg.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.