On April 6th, 2018 Jeff Sessions and Kirstjen Nielsen, the head of Homeland Security, announced a zero-tolerance policy for immigrants at the border. Anyone who didn’t cross the U.S. border at an official port of entry would be criminally prosecuted, even if they were seeking asylum. This “zero tolerance” practice of 100 percent prosecution was modeled after an earlier get-tough policy on the Southwest border called Operation Streamline, which ultimately didn’t deter immigrants from entering the country. In 2015, the Inspector General of Homeland Security declared that the program had increased the workload for Border Patrol agents, and the agency could not prove it had any effect on illegal border crossings.
Nevertheless, the Trump administration went ahead and reconstituted the failed zero-tolerance policy anyway – but this time they added a particularly mean-spirited rule – those travelling with their children would be separated from them. The administration publicly acknowledged that it was separating families to discourage others from travelling to the United States illegally. There are now more than 2,300 children being held in detention away from their parents or guardians.
The United Nations has issued a damning condemnation of this policy, suggesting it “may amount to torture”. “Detention of children is punitive, severely hampers their development, and in some cases may amount to torture,” the experts said. “Children are being used as a deterrent to irregular migration, which is unacceptable.”
After much public outcry, President Trump signed an executive order he says will “keep the families together” when they’re apprehended illegally crossing the border. In a statement issued by the UN’s Human Rights Council, experts said the president’s recent executive order, ostensibly to halt the controversial separations, failed to resolve the problem and “may lead to indefinite detention of entire families in violation of international human rights standards.”
The most frightening aspect of this policy is that the government seems to have had no mechanism set up to organize these family separations. And so far, the administration has no official process for reuniting them.
“Either the government wasn’t thinking at all about how they were going to put these families back together, or they decided they just didn’t care,” said Natalia Cornelio, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. The legal-aid organization is representing more than 300 parents and has only located two children so far.
Lawyers from across the country have shown up in Texas to volunteer their services. Since government resources proved unhelpful, they’ve been collecting information about the children from their parents and passing that on to legal organizations that represent undocumented children. And this is important because just as the government instituted the policies that split children from parents, the program that provided legal aid to unaccompanied minors was slashed.
So now it really is up to the generosity of citizens to get these children the help they need to find their parents.
In my small way, I’m raising money for RAICES, the largest immigration legal services provider in Texas, to help reunite these families.