Maria Domingo-Garcia left for work 12 days ago, and she hasn’t been home.
The mother of three has been separated from her 4-month-old daughter — who she still breastfeeds — since being picked up during a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid at Koch Foods in Morton, Mississippi.
Domingo-Garcia was among the 680 undocumented immigrants detained August 7 in raids, the most in the agency’s history, at seven food processing plants across the central part of the state.
She’s being held at a facility in Jena, Louisiana, which is nearly 200 miles from Morton.
When a woman is breastfeeding, her body continues to produce milk that needs to be expressed or it can cause pain and swelling.
In a video posted online by The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, Domingo-Garcia’s husband tried to bottle-feed the crying infant as he explained that he has friends in the area but no family to help care for the children.
He has been trying to take the kids’ minds off the situation, he told the newspaper.
“They go to the park and relax so they will not feel the absence of the mom,” said Father Roberto Mena of St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Forest, Mississippi, interpreting for the father.
“He has another boy who also goes to school, so every time he comes from school he asks, ‘What is the situation of the mom?'” Mena said.
ICE, attorneys at odds
Domingo-Garcia’s attorneys, Ray Ybarra Maldonado and Juliana Manzanarez, along with Dalila Reynoso, program director for Justice for Our Neighbors in Texas, have been working with the mother and her family as they navigate her custody and hopeful release.
ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said all detainees receive a medical screening upon intake and many people were released for a variety of reasons. If a woman identified that she was nursing she may have been released because it would be considered a mitigating factor in determining detention, he said.
Cox indicated in a Sunday statement he was unable to discuss the specifics of any person’s medical information without a signed privacy waiver, but he did say he was aware of communications between Domingo-Garcia’s attorneys and an ICE representative who claimed Domingo-Garcia answered “no” when asked whether she was breastfeeding.
“ICE is, once again, lying,” said Ybarra Maldonado. “She said nobody’s asked her — not even one time — if she’s been breastfeeding.”
“Can you imagine having a 4-month-old baby and being ripped away from that baby, unsure of who is taking care of her?” he said. “She’s devastated.”
Manzanarez added Domingo-Garcia told her that detention center staff has asked her only if she has a 4-month-old daughter, to which she replied “yes.”
‘In a state of shock’
Domingo-Garcia is originally from Guatemala and has lived in the United States for 11 years, Ybarra Maldonado said.
Her daughter and two sons, ages 3 and 11, are US citizens.
“It’s absolutely a horrific and tragic situation this family is going through,” the lawyer said. “As a father and an immigration attorney it doesn’t make sense to me.”
Manzanarez visited Domingo-Garcia on Saturday and says the mother is feeling the effects of having to suddenly stop breastfeeding.
“She is still really depressed. She is in a lot of pain because of not being able to pump or breastfeed,” Manzanarez said.
Added Ybarra Maldonado, “You’re in a state of shock. You’re in so much pain because you’re away from your kids, especially a young baby.”
Domingo-Garcia thinks only of her children and especially her baby, Manzanarez said.
“Every other word was ‘My daughter,’ and, ‘She really needs me,'” she said.
Attorney: ‘Distraught is an understatement’
Reynoso, an advocate who is working with other migrants detained in the Jena facility, said Domingo-Garcia was third on a list of people her agency was contacting following the raids.
When they met, she said, the mother was devastated.
“She just had this lost look to her,” Reynoso said.
As she waits for her hearing date and release, her husband is grappling with how to take care of his children without their mother.
“Distraught is an understatement,” Manzanarez said, describing the father. “He’s turned upside down. He’s trying to figure out how he’s going to make it work now.”
Both she and Reynoso have visited the family as they wait for their mother and wife to return.
The 3-year-old doesn’t really understand what’s happening but knows his mother isn’t there, Manzanarez said.
The 11-year-old knows and understands why his mother is gone.
“He knows. He’s like, ‘I want my mom back home. I don’t understand why they’re keeping here,’ and, ‘She didn’t do anything wrong. We need her here,'” Manzanarez said.
No hearing date has been set for Domingo-Garcia, Ybarra Maldonado said.
He’s had several conversations over email with Department of Homeland Security officials and has offered to pay bond, but the agency has not responded to his request. he said. “They’ve stopped communicating back with me,” he said.
His team will continue to offer to pay a bond so she can be released on her own recognizance until she’s given a date for a judge to hear her case, he said.