Immigration Injustice

Local family has been on its own ever since mother was arrested and charged with transporting undocumented residents

Austin resident Luissana Santibanez is a busy young lady. The UT senior is tackling a double major of history and government, is an active member of student group MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán, or Chicano Student Movement of Aztlán), and works with the community group Austin Coalition for Immigrant Rights. Like many full-time students, she has taken out student and bank loans to get by. Unlike many other full-time students, however, Luissana has done so because she's supporting her three younger siblings. "I take care of my sister, who's 15. She's at Travis High School," the 22-year-old said. "I also take care of my brother, who's 14 – he's in eighth grade – and another brother, who's 12, in seventh grade."

It all started 13 months ago, when their mother, Sergia Santibanez, was arrested and charged with transporting undocumented residents, an aggravated felony. Sergia, who had been raising her family as a single mother ever since her husband, who was undocumented, was deported in the early Nineties, ran an informal van company, similar to a taxi service. She wasn't intentionally breaking any laws, Luissana insists. "It was just her own way of trying to support her kids," she explained. "She would provide van service to people who needed rides, and it wasn't her job to ask whether her customers were undocumented or not. She wouldn't pick them up in Mexico or anything, it was just an inner-state transportation service." While driving a group of people from San Antonio to Dallas, Sergia got into an accident in New Braunfels. Luissana says that when the officer who came to check out the scene asked everyone in the van for their papers, some people were able to provide proof of their legal status, but some were not.

Sergia, who has been a legal resident of the United States for more than 20 years, has been held in an immigration detention center in Houston ever since and is now facing deportation. Though it worries Luissana that Sergia might be sent back to her rural hometown in Michoacán, Mexico, and though she knows the move would be a hard transition for her younger brothers and sister, all who are, like Luissana, U.S. citizens, at least they would be together. "I think the hardest thing about it is just knowing that my mom has been denied freedom," Luissana said. "Whatever we as a family go through is nothing compared to what she is going through being separated from her children."

MEChA is holding a daylong fundraiser this Saturday, Sept. 23, beginning at 10am at Genie Car Wash, 1311 S. Lamar, to raise money for everything from toiletries for Sergia to gas money for Luissana's trips to Houston.

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U.S. immigration policy, Luissana Santibanez, MEChA, Sergia Santibanez, undocumented immigrants

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