In late April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered his U.S. attorneys to prosecute every crime related to illegally entering the country that they could. “Zero tolerance” was what he called it. Then on May 7, Sessions asserted that the Department of Homeland Security would take children from parents crossing the border illegally, as well as from parents seeking asylum. Sessions’ defense of this practice was, “You can’t be giving immunity to people who bring children with them recklessly and improperly and illegally.”
The recklessness and impropriety can be laid at the feet of Sessions, Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and the Trump Administration. As part of an administration with an ugly record on immigration, these newest policies and subsequent activities are among the ugliest, the most inhumane and the most unacceptable.
The stories that are filtering through are horrifying and brutal. Parents are having their children taken. They are not being told where their children are, how they are being treated or when, how or if they will be reunited.
Under this new policy, parents are sent directly into the custody of the U.S. Marshals for prosecution and/or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for detention. The children, then, are considered to be “unaccompanied” because they have now been removed from their parents. As unaccompanied minors, they are placed in the custody of the Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The children are sent to temporary holding facilities and, typically, on to more permanent sponsors, but the numbers are increasing, and capacity has apparently been reached. ORR has begun considering alternative sites, such as military bases, as possible housing for large groups of children.
Child separation under this administration has been on going, but it has escalated dramatically since Sessions’ announcement in early May. Between October 2017 and April 2018, it was estimated that 700 children had been separated from an adult claiming to be their parent. In the first two weeks of the new policy, however, it is estimated that over 650 children were forcibly separated from their parents.
The immigration policies that are in place under the Trump Administration are happening on our watch, here in our country. Infants and toddlers are being taken from parents; children are being held in large detention facilities; children are having to plead their case before a judge, without legal representation or a parent.
What can be done? Here are a few suggestions to consider:
Attend a rally to make your voice heard: There have been several rallies — one last Friday in downtown Seattle and one on Saturday afternoon at the Federal Way ICE building. There will be others. Make a sign, find a friend to go with you, and raise your voice in protesting this destructive policy.
Support organizations working to rectify these issues: There are organizations working to help out. The Northwest Immigrants Rights Project (NWIRP) has contacted women whose children have been taken from them and who themselves are detained in Federal Way; they are working on providing legal services. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed multiple lawsuits attempting to stop this practice, and last week a district court judge in San Diego allowed one of the lawsuits to go forward. Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) is monitoring legislative proposals, lobbying lawmakers and providing pro bono defense for unaccompanied children. All these organizations — ACLU, NWIRP, KIND, as well as others — need our support, donations and our gratitude.
Support protective legislation for families and children: Some lawmakers are designing and sponsoring legislation to protect families even as they are being processed by the immigration system. Write to our senators and representatives, urging their support for these efforts, thanking those defending the values of decency and justice and chastising those who remain silent.
Vote: The August primary season is upon us, and the 2018 midterms loom large. Query candidates on their views and their willingness to express those views. We need more people in Congress who will speak out and act against these inhumane policies.
There are many, many immigration issues that we need to resolve in this country. In spite of the complexity of the task, a broad consensus exists that comprehensive immigration reform is long overdue. But the plight of these children and their bereft parents calls for lawmakers to act now. And it is our responsibility to urge them to do so.
— Susie Murphy is the organizer for Indivisible Vashon: Immigration/Refugee Work Group.