By KAY MATTHEWS
I seriously doubt that the voters out in Trumplandia know that their president’s executive order yesterday, June 20, stopping the separation of children from their parents seeking asylum at the Mexican border now means that the entire family—parents and children—will be kept together in indefinite detention in federal prison. Yes, babies and toddlers and young children are going to federal prison, locked up as criminals, for seeking asylum in the United States of America.
Those of us who attended Allegra Love’s presentation at the First Christian Church in Santa Fe know this, as well as how the concept of detention is not a partisan issue nor just a twentieth century, isolated incident of institutional racism against people of color. Love, who is the director of legal services at the immigration advocacy organization Santa Fe Dreamers, opened her presentation with these words: “Family separation is not morally complicated but it is historically and politically complicated.”
To parse what has been happening under Trump and Attorney General Jeff Session’s “Zero Tolerance” policy, enacted over the last several months that has resulted in the separation of children from their parents seeking asylum, Love took us back to the Flores Settlement of 1997. This is what Trump keeps referring to when he says “We gotta change that law the Democrats passed that got us into this mess,” although I doubt he even knows what the law says. This law limits the government’s ability to keep children in immigration detention. In 1985 the ACLU sued on behalf of Jenny Lisette Flores, a 15-year old from El Salvador who had fled her home to come live with an aunt in the United States. She was detained by customs and kept in detention with male and female adults in a deplorable situation where she was stripped searched regularly. The case went to the Supreme Court and finally, in 1997 the Flores Settlement set standards for unaccompanied minors (under the age of 18) that children be released as soon as possible to parents, relatives or a legal guardian or if kept in custody be kept separate from adults and provided with basic necessities. Over the years, as it was discovered that immigration authorities were not fully complying with the settlement, additional laws were passed that required that the Department of Homeland Security put unaccompanied children under the care of the Office of Refuge Resettlement (ORR) within the Health and Human Services Department (HHS). That’s what these overflow areas we’re seeing along the border are: ORR and HHS centers.
In 2014 there was a surge of migrants from the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. President Obama implemented the strategy of “deterrence through detention” and opened the immigration detention center in Artesia, New Mexico to process and deport them as quickly as possible: men were separated from women but the women were allowed to stay with their children. This has been widely discredited as a failed policy, as migrant arrivals rose again after 2014 as violence in these countries continued unabated and people had no recourse but to leave.
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. It is not a crime to ask for political asylum. Yet when refugees from Central American come to a port of entry in the United States from Mexico to ask for a “critical fear interview,” instead of releasing them to wait for a hearing they are sent to detention and then criminally prosecuted for what is legally a misdemeanor, or illegal entry into the United States. These facilities are being run by large prison corporations such as CoreCivic and GEO Group, all over the country far away from attorneys, without adequate heath care and services. Love pointed out that the prison corporate lobby is as powerful as the gun lobby and needs our attention just as desperately. A reasonable alternative to incarceration is ankle monitoring, which the government hasn’t even considered.
Other desperate immigrants choose to enter the country in what is called “entry without inspection,” wading across the river, paying coyotes to smuggle them across the desert, then praying for the border patrol to find them before they die of thirst. They then get taken to the ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facilities where they might get bond or get taken to federal detention.
Then, almost two months ago, Attorney General Sessions announced the Zero Tolerance policy that stipulated every immigrant crossing the border without documentation would be prosecuted and sent to a federal detention center and their children taken from them and sent to HHS and ORR centers to comply with the Flores Settlement. With upwards of 2,000-2,5000 children those centers are overflowing and tent centers are being set up in Texas. In all the outrage that has accompanied this policy, Love pointed out that the pictures of the so-called cages we’ve all seen on TV are actually at the ICE holding areas where they’re deciding which ORR facilities the children are going to be sent to.
With the signing of the Executive Order we remain in limbo. It seems the Trump administration would like to get rid of the Flores Settlement altogether and expedite the legal process to get families through detention as quickly as possible and deported or detain them for months or even years. Two Republican sponsored bills that have been introduced in Congress still demand billions of dollars for “the wall” between Mexico and the U.S and don’t fully address the plight of The Dreamers, children of undocumented immigrants who are seeking a path to citizenship. Michelle Lujan Grisham appeared on CNN this morning as head of the Hispanic Caucus opposed to both bills.
Today the former head of ICE John Sandweg told reporters he fears that hundreds of separated children will never be returned to their parents: “the federal government is not very good at keeping track of kids and their parents.” I asked Love if she thought this was the case, and she concurred: there will be children who will never be reunited with their parents and will become wards of the United States.
There’s a national rally planned for immigrant justice on June 30 in Washington D.C. with sister rallies across the nation. Here’s the information for the rally in Albuquerque.
What you can do to help:
Legal services: ACLU, RAICES (bond fund), New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, Santa Fe Dreamers, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center
Immigrant help in Santa Fe: La Familia, Somos Un Pueblo Unido, Santa Fe Public Schools
If you want to volunteer to accompany an immigrant to a court hearing, contact Allegra Love at Santa Fe Dreamers: 505 490-2789