The Mami Chelo Foundation, Inc., was founded by social entrepreneur Yanet Candelario. Yanet is Cuban-Canadian and she currently lives in New York City. An immigrant herself who experienced inhumane conditions unjustly locked up at an Immigration Detention Center for over 13 months, Yanet counts herself lucky that she was able to get released from immigration detention. Yanet was detained by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) even though she had a green card pending and had committed no crime. She came to the United States in 2013, fleeing from an abusive relationship and wanting to be close to her entire immediate family, who are all American citizens or Legal Permanent Residents, and they all live in the United States. A year, a month and 9 days later, Yanet was released on a Habeas Corpus and a ten thousand dollar bond.
While in detention, Yanet witnessed and personally suffered a lot of abuse, including being denied medical attention. She wrote many grievances and reported several cases of abuse to American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a few members of Congress and Senators. And because of this, she suffered further retaliation in detention. Her incarceration was at a great personal cost, especially for her son who was left home alone and separated from her. However, Yanet spent that time becoming a self-taught student of the law and advocating for other detainees, for which she faced further injustice. She was released in 2017 after she originally filed a pro se Habeas Corpus (Salazar v. Tsoukaris), the first-ever granted to an arriving alien in the Third Circuit.
In the years leading up to her detention, Yanet worked in business development for a private equity group. Fluent in four languages — French, Italian, Spanish and English, she completed the WIFT-T mid-career program in business management for media professionals at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario. In addition to being a businesswoman, Yanet is also an award-winning actress, producer, and writer. She received her training in Cuba, Canada, England, and the United States — most notably at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in contemporary drama in London, England where Anthony Hopkins once studied. She has written, produced and co-directed numerous plays, TV shows as well as a few films. Yanet has also taken the LSAT and is currently earning the Board of Immigration Appeals accreditation at St. Francis of Assisi while also being enrolled in an entrepreneurship program at Harvard Business School.
"Even though my detention was very hard, I believe I went there to find my true calling and to help those who have no voice," says Yanet. Having founded The Mami Chelo Foundation, Yanet hopes to give back by helping her immigrant brothers and sisters impacted by detention and deportation, while she faces uncertainty with her own immigration case. "I founded The Mami Chelo Foundation to fight for human rights. It feels like everything I've done before was preparing me for this; to become an advocate for those in need, expose the injustice people face every day and bring accountability to the right people. I strongly believe this is my destiny."
But what inspired the name for the foundation? Yanet has an aunt, Gloria Consuelo Salazar Fonseca, who helped raise her and is one of her main maternal role models. However, everyone calls her Chelo which is a nickname for Consuelo and means "consolation" and "comfort," while all the children call her Mami Chelo. "Mami Chelo is the most selfless person I have ever met," says Yanet. "She has always lived a life of service helping her family and the community, so when the time came to create an entity to help others, I couldn't think of a better name."