After nearly half a year locked up in an immigrant prison, Dominic Ricardo “Ricky” Morgan was finally released and is reunited with his family in Utica. Occupy Utica helped the family and Ricky in his defense while he was locked up. This is certainly a time for rejoicing. But let us remember that although Ricky is free now and is in the process of getting documentation to work and live here, there are millions of others locked up in prison in this country. Helping family members of those who are incarcerated, and sending letters, commissary and an occasional phone call to prisoners can go a long way. This is Ricky’s story. It was originally published in print and online in The Utica Phoenix.

Dominic Morgan and his Daughter Shianne

June 22, 2012

Occupy Utica Organizes Fundraiser to Benefit Local Family Torn Apart by Immigration Authorities

Occupy Utica is holding a fundraiser June 28th at the Isis Hookah Lounge for a family that was torn apart by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) and is fighting the possible deportation of the father and husband Dominic Ricardo “Ricky” Morgan. The situation was brought to the attention of Occupy Utica by Proctor High School student Marquis Palmer who first got involved with Occupy when he went to the budget cuts protest the group organized in April. When he learned about the planning for May Day and the holiday’s history of supporting immigrant and workers’ rights, he told the story of his step-father Dominic Morgan.

Dominic Morgan immigrated to the US from Jamaica in the late 1990s and eventually settled in Utica where he met his current wife Melissa. The two met in 1999 and married in 2008. They had two children together but are both responsible for raising eight children, all of whom have call Dominic their real father. He worked jobs managing apartment buildings and most recently worked at the Jamaican restaurant on Genesee Street before it closed. But most of the work he did was at home raising the children he loves. “He cooks, he cleans, he takes care of the kids so I can work, and without him I’m lucky I have a job,” stated Mrs. Morgan. He saw the younger children off to school, and spent extensive time in hospitals for his son who is also named Dominic to undergo treatment for leukemia.

Everything changed in their lives when Dominic, who is called Ricky by his family, went to the Utica Police Department this past spring to file some paperwork and get fingerprinted so he could have complete custody over and be the primary caregiver of his son from a past relationship. His fingerprints came up in the system and he had a warrant out for his arrest. In 1999 he was charged with two misdemeanors. He contends he was at the wrong place at the right time and was in someone else’s house that the police entered and a small bag of drugs was allegedly found. It was guilt by association but only to a degree. He was never convicted and never spent any time in jail.

Because of his status as an immigrant, the case also went to Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), the government agency that existed before George W Bush created ICE. INS claims that they mailed papers for a hearing date that Dominic Morgan never showed up to, but Mr. Morgan claims he never received it in the mail and because of his innocence stemming from the charges, figured the case was settled. Unfortunately, many immigrants are “picked up” by the then INS and current ICE for not responding to these hearing notices sent in the mail. It is often because it goes to the wrong address, or the individual moved.

ICE decided that a punishment was in order for a father trying to do the responsible thing by providing loving care to his son. In the last week of March, seven armed ICE officers swarmed the Yorkville residence of the Morgan family as the children were getting ready for school.  He was allowed to call Melissa who was finishing up the graveyard shift at the bank she works at and tell her what was happening. The ICE agents handcuffed him and took him to a processing facility for immigrants in Syracuse. It did not matter that he was the primary caregiver of his children and a loving husband. It did not matter that his wife Melissa was a US citizen that was born and raised in the area. He was criminalized from the very beginning just for being an immigrant. He was sent to the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, one of many ICE prisons that have mushroomed up in the last decade. His 9 year old daughter Shi-Anne said, “If I knew they were taking him I wouldn’t let them and I would tell them to take me too.”

In an interview over the phone Mr. Morgan stated, “When it comes to immigration, I’m in a different situation because I’m seeing an immigration officer and not a judge. They get paid to deport people. Why they would do that to me is on the verge of moral fortitude. It’s not like I have a criminal record.” With no criminal record and little reason to be locked up, ICE is looking to deport him for overstaying his visa. The system of rounding up, imprisoning and deporting immigrants is a lucrative one and Mr. Morgan appears to be correct in his assertion that money would be made if he is deported. Many of the ICE prisons are built and maintained by private corporations like Geo Group. The physical and sexual abuse, neglect and in many cases torture have been widespread at these facilities and immigrants are often held for years until, or if, they are deported to their country of origin. The cost of this mass incarceration of around 34,000 people at any given time is a heavy strain on taxpayers. For the 2012 Fiscal Year the House of Representatives has approved a budget of $2.75 billion for detention and removal. The Obama administration made a recent request that would amount to $5.5 million a day for detention and removal.

Although President Obama was brought to power on a wave of Latino and immigrant support and his campaign even coopted the immigrant rights movement slogan “Yes We Can” (“Si Se Puede”), his anti-immigrant policies have rivaled and sometimes gone more to the right of former President George W. Bush. Dominic Morgan was taken in by ICE around the same time that the largest mass roundup in the history of ICE occurred. Over 3,000 undocumented immigrants were taken in and locked up by the agency. Last year ICE deported nearly 400,000 people and although there have been some recent reforms, ICE continues its job in breaking apart families.

ICE made a profound impact on the Morgan family. Mrs. Morgan says that the hardest thing to take care of since her husband was taken away is childcare. Without her husband there, Marquis and his brother Cameron who both attend Proctor were arriving late to school just so they could take care of the younger children before Mrs. Morgan came home from work. Rent and bills were either getting paid late or not at all. Food became scarce as the kitchen cupboards routinely went empty. In order to supplement the income her husband brought in, Mrs. Morgan is applying for a part time job on top of her fulltime graveyard shift. She only sleeps a few hours a day now. The absence of Dominic Morgan has been particularly hard on the couple’s 7 year old son Dominic who was diagnosed with Leukemia and has Down Syndrome. His father was the one who took charge of bringing him to the hospital for treatment, and Mrs. Morgan has missed work in the past to take him to Syracuse for treatment.

The situation has taken its emotional toll on the family too. “With my dad gone it’s like my heart is torn in half because my mom is one half and my dad is the other,” Shi-Anne stated as she talked about why she missis her father.  His 12 year old daughter Dimonique agreed and added, “Well I really don’t know my dad but Ricky is like a father to me. He’s been taking care of me since I was younger than one. He did everything for me. He taught me how to cook and he taught me right from wrong and basically acted as my father.” When Marquis first brought the situation to the attention of Occupy Utica, he stated that he can’t have his father deported and that his family needs him. Their brother Cameron is excited to start his job next week so he can bring in some money for the family.

For Mrs. Morgan the battle has been fought a day at a time as she struggles to make ends meet and navigates her way through a confusing and broken immigration and prison system. The experience has tarnished her view of the US government. “If I was down in Jamaica they wouldn’t kick me out if I was staying there too long, especially if I had a family and kids.” No statistics, policy analysts, or human rights activists need to tell her what she already knows about ICE. “Breaking up families is the main thing I’ve seen them do. I understand if they go after criminals but why go after someone who has a family?” Dominic Morgan may not be a criminal, but the system we have in place treats him and his entire family like criminals.

Mr. Morgan’s Manhattan based attorney Mr. Gary Wright weighed in on the matter too. “Our government is basically wreaking havoc in the lives of many US families that happen to have an immigrant in the family, like in the case of the Morgan family. Entire families are being torn apart and we have a Congress and President that are unable to carry out some sensible immigration reform. We have states like Arizona and Georgia and Mississippi showing a display of extreme xenophobia and the federal administration has done absolutely nothing about it.”

Occupy Utica stepped in by trying to fill in at least some of the gap created by the actions of ICE and the absence of Mr. Morgan. Members of the group have bought food, provided gas money, house repairs, free childcare five days a week, transportation to the ICE prison in Batavia so the family can visit Mr. Morgan, and emotional support. Members also confronted a manager at a Whitesboro rent-to-own center where the Morgans have rented furniture from. They were harassing Mrs. Morgan, often calling her 10 to 20 times a day to return the property she had. The manager was informed that if the harassment did not stop, Occupy Utica would get involved and little has been heard of from the store since.

Hundreds of dollars have been raised; even union members in the Industrial Workers of the World all over Florida have donated funds. Letters, commissary money, and books have been sent to Mr. Morgan and an occasional phone call is made to check up on him. “I definitely appreciate what Occupy Utica is doing, especially at this time of difficulty,” Mr. Morgan affirmed by phone. He spoke out of concern for his children, his son Dominic, and his wife Melissa. “I was the person she could count on. At the drop of a hat I would be there.” Melissa Morgan has also been very thankful of Occupy Utica’s support, emphasizing the role of Lana Nitti who has given much emotional support to the family, and provides free childcare to see the children off to school in the morning.

The fundraiser for the family will be a Reggae dance party at the Isis Hookah Lounge and Restaurant on 500 Columbia Street on the corner of State. It is Friday June 28th and starts at 8:00pm. It will go on late into the night and will feature a 50/50 raffle, baskets and prizes to be raffled off, speakers talking about the prison system and immigration, and music by King Crown Sound. The family is very excited about the event and although the situation has been difficult, many local residents in the Caribbean community, and business owner and workers of the Isis Hookah Lounge have been incredibly supportive. The cover at the door is $5.00 and all ages are welcome.

Lana Nitti, an organizer with Occupy Utica states that, “One of the main aspects of the event is not only to provide support to the Morgan family but to also bring together the Caribbean community here in Utica. Each person that is coming to the event that knows about being separated from loved ones and paying the expense of trying to get citizenship, we’re letting people know that they are not alone and that we are together in this. It’s supposed to be a fun evening  of entertainment but it’s also important to remember that this event was brought forward by people coming together and organizing in their own communities because they are touched by this story and we need to continue to build on that and organize.”

Brendan Maslauskas Dunn