SALEM — A rally was held yesterday for a Salem woman who is facing deportation following her arrest last month in a motor vehicle stop.
More than 60 people gathered outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Burlington, many of them immigration reform advocates, to support Mariola Perez, an immigrant from Guatemala who came to this country without legal documents, has lived in Salem for three years and is seeking asylum.
Perez, 26, and her 3-year-old son reside with Avi Chomsky, a Salem State University professor who was one of the rally organizers.
“I am afraid of taking (my son) back to Guatemala,” Perez told the crowd gathered outside the ICE building, as her son, Ernesto, stood by her side. “I don’t want him to be exposed to the abuse and violence I will have to return to.”
Perez was a victim of domestic abuse and is a member of a persecuted Mayan minority in her homeland, according to speakers at the rally.
Guatemala “is an extremely dangerous place” for a poor, single mother like Perez, said Deborah Levenson, a professor of Latin American history at Boston College.
Perez’s odyssey began three years ago when she fled Guatemala and, after several attempts, entered this country through Mexico, according to Chomsky.
“She appeared on my doorstep seven months pregnant, homeless, terrified and traumatized,” said Chomsky.
Since arriving, Perez has taken English as a Second Language classes at Salem State University and enrolled her son in a Salem State preschool, according to Chomsky.
Chomsky called it “ironic” that it was Salem State University police who arrested Perez Aug. 25 on a charge of driving without a license. She was stopped after going through a light at the corner of Loring and Lafayette streets, Chomsky said.
The young mother delivers newspapers and cleans houses, Chomsky said. She also has enrolled in a college readiness program and takes parenting classes, she said.
Her young son suffers from asthma and has been hospitalized for the condition, Chomsky said.
The “tragedy” in this case is that Perez could be separated from her son, who was born in this country and is a U.S. citizen, supporters said.
“Citizen children of unauthorized or undocumented immigrants — they are the victims,” said Brinton Lykes, another BC professor who spoke at the rally and has written extensively on Guatemala.
Several speakers said Perez’s case speaks to the need for immigration reform.
“We’re not saying everybody should stay,” said Alexandra Pineros-Shields of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. But there should be a process, or path to citizenship, for someone like Perez, with each case judged on its merits, she said.
“She’s an unskilled laborer,” Pineros said. “There is no visa for that, but there was for our European ancestors.”
Among the speakers were the Rev. Jeffrey Barz-Snell of the First Church in Salem, Unitarian; Jeff Crosby, president of the North Shore Labor Council; and Noam Chomsky, a professor emeritus at MIT and father of Avi Chomsky.
The rally was held outside the ICE office, where Perez and her attorney dropped off forms seeking a stay of removal to halt the deportation proceeding.
“I believe that with Ernesto’s medical condition and Mariola’s very unique and personal circumstances we’ve got a good shot,” said Attorney Matthew Cameron.
A decision is expected in a few weeks.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.