Ryan, age 52, has known his 32-year-old spouse Lan Ying since 2003. They have been married since July, 2005. But since the time when immigration authorities shipped Lan Ying off to Haskell Prison for three months, he has lived with a fear that any day could bring the handcuffs that drag her out of his life forever.
As Ryan tells the story of his love and life with Lan (he pronounces the name Lane), it is not difficult to hear echoes from Geneva where the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants last week delivered a critical report on migrant rights in the USA.
"The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State," says the report from Jorge A. Bustamante, quoting directly from Article 16, paragraph 3, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 23, paragraph 1, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Rapporteur's report cites family rights in early paragraphs, because the USA has agreed to honor these principles. Yet Rapporteur Bustamante alleges, as the example of Ryan and Lan Pace illustrates, that the structure of immigration enforcement in the USA tends to disrespect family rights.
Lan Ying Pace left China in 2000 following a forced abortion, says Ryan. She applied for asylum as soon as she met USA immigration authorities at the airport gate. She has a legal record without blemish. Not even a traffic ticket. And now that she's legally married, her husband doesn't understand why the American government would keep trying to break the family apart.
Ryan remembers how on Nov. 30, 2006 he accompanied Lan to an "interview" at federal offices along Stemmons Freeway in Dallas. He assured Lan that her skepticism about the interview was unfounded. Since they had been married, Lan had been issued a Social Security card, a work permit, and a Texas driver's license. The immigration authorities had simply called them for an "interview" to make sure things were going okay. Ryan and Lan brought along friends to wait in the parking lot with Lan's 3-year-old child, Teresa.
Today, of course, Teresa cannot forget the day when her mother went into the Stemmons Freeway building and disappeared for three months. Instead of an "interview," Lan was handcuffed and taken away.
"I didn't have any idea why they arrested her," recalls Ryan via telephone. "They told me they probably were not going to keep her very long. For two days I played hide-and-seek trying to find her. Then I found her at the Bedford Jail (near the Dallas-Fort Worth airport), where they would not let me see her." When he went back to immigration offices the next day to post bond, the story had changed dramatically.
"They told me she had her day in court, her asylum claim was denied, and she would be immediately deported to China," recalls Ryan.
"'We don't know why you're bothering with her,' they said."
"And I looked back at them and said,'because she's my wife.'"
Migrants in detention include many classes of victims, says the Bustamante report: "asylum-seekers, torture survivors, victims of human trafficking, long-term permanent residents facing deportation for criminal convictions based on a long list of crimes (including minor ones), the sick, the elderly, pregnant women, transgender migrants detained according to their birth sex rather than their gender identity or expression, parents of children who are United States citizens, and families."
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