Somali Mothers in U.S. Want to Send Wayward Sons Home
JOHN YDSTIE, host:
Minnesota is home to more than 25,000 Somali immigrants. In the city of Rochester, police say an increasing number of Somali American teenagers are getting caught up in drugs. In response, some mothers are sending their sons back to Somalia. Minnesota Public Radio Sea Stachura reports.
(Soundbite of people speaking in a foreign language)
Ms. SEA STACHURA (Reporter, Minnesota Public Radio): Afternoon prayers have just finished at Anab(ph) Garuf's(ph) apartment. Garuf, a petite woman with a big laugh and bright eyes, bustles around the dining room while another mother, Abud(ph) Shachai(ph) settles into the table. She pulls off her coat and leans back as Garuf pours tea, and her son comes home from school. His arrival prompts Garuf to say that her son stays away from drugs. Shekai(ph) pulls at her glasses and says, many Somali boys are dropping out of school and selling drugs for money.
She fears that these boys have given up on their Somali roots, and are attracted to crime here in America. Both women are single parents. They arrived in the U.S. 12 years ago. Both have limited English, and work full-time jobs. They've also become the leaders of a maternal movement to address the drug problem among Somali teens. Garuf's bright eyes sharpen when she talks about chasing one dealer out of a park. Some kids, she says, run away when they see her. But this one ignored her, even after she yelled at him and told him she was calling the police.
Ms. GARUF: I said, stop the selling of drugs. He say, I need the money. I said, I'm calling the police. He say, I don't care.
STACHURA: But she didn't call, because she felt it would be a waste of time. Rochester Police Sergeant Dan Polfred says these moms expect the police to arrest anyone they claim is a drug dealer and lock them up for years, even on a first offense for possession. But Polfred says that's not how it works.
Police Sergeant DAN POLFRED (Policeman, Rochester, Minnesota): What happens is the son gets caught two or three times, and now, all of a sudden, they've got so many going against them, that now all they're looking at is prison time. And then the parents say, well, you know, they should've done that the first time. Well, but that's not our system.
STACHURA: Polfred says it's not unusual for some new immigrant population to be lured into illegal activity when they first arrive, even though most work legitimate jobs and settle in. He says the Somali community hasn't established itself as well as some others. Abni Patel is with the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association and has met with Somali moms and teens. She says the drug problem is viewed as a crisis, and they think that they've found a solution.
Ms. Abni PATEL (Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association): Oh, they want them deported. If they are only in America to cause trouble for their family and their community, they shouldn't be here. Send them back. And one of these mothers, who's leading this effort, did send her son back to Somalia.
STACHURA: Vyud Shekai(ph) quietly acknowledges that she is the one who sent her 15-year-old back. He cut school and disobeyed her. And while she says she doesn't think he was selling drugs, she sent him to live with his grandmother and uncle in Somalia.
Ms. VYUD SHEKAI: I'm gonna tell my kid. That's why I send him. He's happy, too.
STACHURA: Shekai says her son now prays at the local mosque, and regularly attends school. Her friend, Anab Garuf, explains that many Somali people see their sons as their lifeline. They have better English skills and more education opportunities. Just as Americans depend on Social Security for their retirement, Somalis depend on their children.
Ms. GARUF: There are so many people who don't have a Social Security. My Social Security is my security. It's (unintelligible), it's Somalian (unintelligible), worried.
STACHURA: They're worried about drug dealers who congregate in an alley behind the local teahouse. At the end of this alley is the YMCA, where some Somali teens are playing basketball. One is Verum(ph), who says he was orphaned by the war, and lives with his grandmother. As his friends nod in agreement, he says he supports the mothers' actions.
Mr. VERUM: Somali lady have to send the kids that are selling junk back to Africa. And that's the only way this is gonna stop. Unless you send all of them back.
STACHURA: But Abni Patel says she's troubled by the solution.
Ms. PATEL: This is shocking to me. As a member of an ethnic community, hell, no. My whole family would move back to India before we would ever be separated, before we would ever have the legal system get involved and divide us up.
STACHURA: Patel says that Somalis are trying to hold onto a culture and a community they no longer are connected to. But Somali mothers here say they, too have family who would take in their sons. And they aren't ruling out that option. For NPR News, I'm Sea Stachura in Rochester, Minnesota.
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