Activists, union leaders and elected officials call for release of Baba Sillah

Stephon Johnson | 3/7/2019, 12:05 p.m.
Elected officials, labor leaders, allies and family members gathered this week to stop the deportation of a beloved community member.

Elected officials, labor leaders, allies and family members gathered this week to stop the deportation of a beloved community member.

Monday, March 4, friends of Baba Sillah held a news conference at 32BJ SEIU headquarters calling on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to let Sillah rejoin his family. Sillah, a native of Gambia who has lived in the United States since 1993, was detained by ICE officers Jan. 31 during a routine check-in at federal immigration offices in lower Manhattan.

“The inhuman policies and practices of this administration continue to punish good people like Baba, and hurt U.S. citizens like his wife Mamou and their five children, and we will fight again and again until we can stop family separation as a matter of course,” said Héctor Figueroa, president of 32BJ. “We are here for this family, but we are also here for all our co-workers and neighbors in families who are being terrorized and under threat of unjust separation.”

Sillah has worked as a porter on the Upper East Side since 2006 and became a member of 32BJ SEIU the same year. He has a pending application for a green card and is married to U.S. citizen Mamou Drame Sillah. He has five children (Ebribima, 16; Aminata, 10; Isha, 4; and Fatima, 9 months) who were all born here with one of them (whose name wasn’t disclosed) currently living in Senegal. Mamou pleaded to authorities to let their kids see their father again.

“When Baba called me from JFK, minutes before he was supposed to board a plane away from us, he had given up. I was scared too, but I told him, it’s not time yet,” said Mamou, holding the couple’s 9-month-old daughter Fatima. “Thank God, the hard work of so many people, the lawyers and our unions and elected officials, meant that he was able to remain in the U.S. I’m not working because Baba took care of the kids in the day, and I did at night. They miss him, and he misses them.”

Two weeks ago Sillah’s family, 32BJ members, the imam at his mosque and elected officials rallied outside of 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan to call for his release. Authorities took Sillah from his cell at Hudson with plans to deport him that night, but he was granted a last minute stay after lawyers at the NSC Community Legal Defense got involved.

But Sillah is still in custody.

“To separate Baba from his family indefinitely as his case is pending would be devastating to his family and present terrible hardships, as well as having a lasting impact on his children and all who know him throughout the community,” said Congress Member Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), whose district includes the building where Baba works. “Baba’s case is further proof that our nation’s immigration system is broken, and his story is one more example of why I fight in Washington to ensure that America remains a beacon of hope, freedom and opportunity for all individuals.”

Labor leaders being involved in immigration matters isn’t new. Just last year, thousands of construction workers, painters and more (from unions such as AFL-CIO, UNITE HERE and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades) took to the streets of Philadelphia to link immigrant rights to worker rights. The protesters also called out President Donald Trump for trying to divide labor along ethnic lines. Petew Ward, president of the New York Hotel Trades Council, said he understood the importance of immigrant labor to American life.

“Our city cannot function without the hard work of immigrants like Baba and his wife Mamou, who we are proud to have as an HTC member,” said Ward. “Inhumane mass deportations and family separations don’t strengthen our security, they just weaken the immigrant foundation at the heart of our nation. HTC will do everything in our power to ensure the Sillah family gets to stay here and stay together.”