Protesters Call For Release of Detained Moroccan Mother

John F. Kennedy Federal Building in Boston, Massachusetts in May 2006. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith

By Sizhong Chen
BU News Service

In front of JFK Federal Building, over 50 people called for the release of Siham Byah and her son, who have been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for over 10 days. 

It is the second rally organizer Malika MacDonald held for Byah. Thursday night’s chilly rain didn’t stop them from gathering to show their support. MacDonald’s 11-year-old daughter helped draw the sign, asking ICE to let her friend, Byah’s 8-year-old son Naseem, go.

“What has taken place is completely injustice,” MacDonald said. “There’s been no reason given. There’s been nothing given to the attorney, to her, to anyone.”

Byah, 40, originally from Morocco, has lived in Nahant since she came to the United States sixteen years ago. Last Tuesday, ICE called on Byah for a routine check-in. Upon arrival, they immediately took her into custody, according to rally organizers. Her son Naseem was at school and later taken away by Department of Children and Families (DCF).

MacDonald said she met Byah through the Muslim community when they organized services for the homeless. As a friend of Byah’s for eight years, MacDonald described her as an outspoken and strong woman. According to her, Byah was involved in disfranchisement issues and was an advocate for people from Syria and Palestine.

Byah’s lawyer, Matthew Cameron, was also at the rally. He said ICE had committed one of the worst injustices.

According to Cameron, as organizers encouraged people to call ICE’s office number and leave messages such as “Free Siham.” ICE has asked him to have all people stop calling on Thursday.

“I’m going to ask you keep calling,” Cameron said to the crowd. “They’re hearing you. Every day they’re hearing you by the hour, hundreds and hundreds of calls. And that’s the only way they’re going to do it right.”

A woman who identified herself as Adina said she was at the rally to support Byah. She had fled from Bosnia when she was 7 years old.

“Yesterday, Malika asked me to speak, and I said, ‘I can’t, I’m too scared’,” Adina said with tears in her eyes. “And then I remembered that at the age of 7, while I crossed borders, ships, awful buses, police and everything in between, all I wished in this universe was that if there’s someone, please come to speak for me.”

 

The number of people demonstrating was smaller than the first rally, which had over 200 people. MacDonald attributed the smaller number to the bad weather and fear among the Moroccon community.

She said she believed people in the community were worried that their families in Morocco would suffer political persecution or were afraid of being put in the same situation as Byah.

Ben Doernberg, a member of a Jewish movement organization IfNotNow, helped to organize Thursday’s rally. He called Byah’s detainment “an evil thing to do.” He said although the rally was not likely to be seen by officials in Washington D.C., it did bind people who care for Byah.

“I don’t see what the problem was,” Doernberg said. “She was living her life, she wasn’t causing a problem for anybody else.”

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