What is Happening – A Humanitarian Crisis (Family Separation/Zero Tolerance)
I know we have been inundated as immigration attorneys with more changes in the last year and a half than most of the Obama Administration but I want to give you an update from what I have seen on the ground regarding family separation. I volunteered at Port Isabel 2 weeks after the AILA Annual Conference(https://tinyurl.com/y7qlax2h/), stayed in touch with those I visited as well as other volunteers, organized efforts, communicated updates with the media, took pro bono case work, sent my associate attorney to volunteer last week, and didn’t unplug during my annual vacation last week because of this. I have been following the crisis on local, state, and national levels in many capabilities and all of them shirking my law firm management duties to serve a greater cause.
As you know, the Admin. charged parents with criminal illegal entry to separate their kids and to label their children as UACs to place in ORR facilities under the “Zero Tolerance” policy (on a large scale level starting May 7, 2018). ACLU’s efforts (see Ms. L. v ICE +) and the public outcry (see E.O. of June 20) have been putting the Administration on notice to act to reverse it but it has been a due process struggle at every juncture as the Administration creates road blocks at each step of the way (see Matter of A.B., etc.)
What I saw was parents who were traumatized, they were lied to when they were separated from their children. They didn’t have the opportunity to speak with their young child until after the June 20 Executive Order, which meant a day or two before or a day or two after their credible fear interview. Would you want to give your whole life story over the phone to a Government that lied to you and ripped your child from you? Many come from countries that they don’t trust in the first place and why do we expect them to tell their secrets, they didn’t even tell their family, their spouse, their children, the a person on the other side of the phone while they are living with the trauma of separation? That is why we need to help them to create a class action lawsuit and give them more opportunities to fight for due process.
Many received negative credible fear interview results. Upon Immigration Judge review, there were often summarily kept with the same decision, often without the IJ even allowing the attorney to speak (Enter Article 1 vs Article 3 court discussion). But for the ACLU’s litigation, many would have been deported without their children by now. Let that sink in.
There were approx. 103 “tender age” separations including one mother I spoke with at Port Isabel detention center(PIDC) who was separated from her 5-month old baby she was breastfeeding.
Approx. 2,551 other minor children were separated and spread around the country. This last group must be reunited by the Ms. L v Ice deadline given by Judge Sabraw of Thursday, July 26. Many of us who have seen the inner workings don’t believe this deadline will be met but progress has been expedited in the last few days.
Starting Friday, July 13th, 9 children were reunited with parents at PIDC and then later more parents were reunited. They were reunited after 30-60 days of separation, placed in a shelter for a day or two and then on their way. Oh, and given master calendar hearings in Harlingen for a month after their departure of detention even though they plan to relocated around the country. This is not specific to Port Isabel, I am hearing reports from other facilities like Arizona, etc. I am afraid the Administration is setting many up for failure hoping the reunified parents and traumatized families will miss their deadlines and be deported in absentia.
Things are changes every minute. We are experiencing a tsunami with various points of collateral damage at each step of the way. Non-profits and organizations have not been able to keep up. Think travel ban 1.0 at the airports or for us in Houston, Harvey, and then take it to the next level because our Government knew they were traumatizing children, gutting asylum law, and creating chaos simultaneously without a plan to fix it. They were invoking trauma on children in the name of deterrence of asylum-seekers but all the while dodging asylum law obligations and general human rights mores.
Call to Action
- Take a pro bono case or two – these people need our help and they need it soon: I think the Admin wants them to get in absentia orders so let’s not let that happen. I know of grassroots efforts collecting information of the parents being reunited and I too have information of parents, if you want a lead on a case, I can help. ([email protected])
- Encourage your friends to donate to groups doing the best good, help in other non-legal ways and volunteer on a short-term basis:
- Immigrant Families Together – https://www.facebook.com/ImmigrantFamiliesTogether/
- Lawyer Moms of America –
- ACLU – https://www.aclu.org/
- Raices – https://www.raicestexas.org/
- Kids In Need of Defense – https://supportkind.org/
- Grassroots Leadership – https://grassrootsleadership.org/
- ABA Pro Bar – https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_services/immigration/projects_initiatives/south_texas_pro_bono_asylum_representation_project_probar.html
- American Gateways – http://www.americangateways.org/pro-bono-attorney-volunteers/
- Texas Civil Rights Project – https://texascivilrightsproject.org/
- Let’s remind our US citizen friends and clients to register to vote and to actually vote. Put instructions on how to register and upcoming elections in your lobby and your social media. Bring it up in consultations.
- Be the voice for those who are not being heard –
- Advocacy tools and Op-ed templates: https://www.aila.org/advo-media/tools
- Speak to the media and journalists – give immigrants a voice and explain the situation as a subject matter expert.
Let’s do this!
Ruby L. Powers
Board Certified Immigration Attorney, Powers Law Group, P.C.
July 19, 2018