Hispanics in North Carolina have formed a support group for families whose members are facing deportation.

The group consists of about 40 people who meet at least once a week at the headquarters of the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte, where 11,480 immigrants have been deported since 2006 under the 287(g) program, which makes members of participating local law enforcement agencies responsible for immigration enforcement.

Familias Unidas (United Families) is made up of fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, Latinos, Americans and it was started after a demonstration in May to support Gabino Sanchez, a Mexican living in South Carolina who was facing deportation but received a postponement in part due to the intervention of U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.)

"In this community, we're facing an epidemic every day. We have families who are suffering because of the deportation of parents and children. We have to unite and mutually support one another to prevent more children from becoming orphans," Jess George, the director of LAC, a pro-immigrant group, said on Wednesday.

George asked the people gathered there to show up on Sept. 4 at the Immigration Court in Charlotte to provide support for Isaide Serrano, a mother of five, at her last hearing before a judge who will decide on her future in the United States.

Serrano, who is pregnant, said that a year ago a police officer arrested her when she had gone out to get food for her children and she wound up in jail for not having a driver's license, even though she told the officer that she was nursing her 9-month-old baby.

"My day is approaching and I need ... the people's support," the Mexican woman said. "I've been in the country for 20 years. I don't have a criminal record, I just lack papers. I don't owe anyone anything, and I want to stay so that my children get a good education," she emphasized.

Another case of family separation is that of Claudia Valle, whose husband spent 40 days in jail after being arrested for a minor traffic infraction and got out upon posting bail of $6,000 but now is in the process of being deported.

"My son was very depressed and afraid during those days because he didn't know if his father would come home," said the mother of three.

Marisela Prieto told the group that her 8-year-old daughter cannot even look at the police because she is afraid they will return to take her father, Jose Luis Serrano, who was arrested for not having a driver's license.

"Our children suffer a lot when they arrest one of us and start the deportation (process). Participating in the group has been like therapy and thinking that our family is not the only one that's suffering," Prieto said.

Although Familias Unidas has neither a leader nor any particular experience or expertise in the matter, its members feel that getting together regularly and staying united will be better than fighting separately, and they are scheduling more demonstrations of support for families who are facing deportation. EFE