On June 20, I attended a community briefing regarding the separation and imprisonment of families who were seeking asylum in the United States. (see notes below) Today, an executive order was signed stopping the separation of families, but that does not mean that the inhumane policy change made weeks earlier by Jeff Sessions has been totally recalled. There is still much to be concerned about.
For starters: How did this happen in the first place? What parts of the zero-tolerance policy still remain? How will families be reunited? If a child (or anyone for that matter) dies while in custody, who will be held responsible? Why are many people being turned away from visiting places where children are kept; like senator Bill Nelson from Florida, who was told that he cannot visit the center holding children for two weeks? What kind of medical attention is being given to these children? (the Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, visited a foster care center in New York, where over 200 children who were separated from their families are being held. He reported horrible conditions and outbreaks of lice, bed bugs and chickenpox.) Where is the accountability? And the questions continue...
Remember, this outrage is against the treatment of people - especially families - who are seeking asylum. It is NOT illegal. Other issues of our flawed immigration law and policies still need to be addressed.
This is not a time to separate our efforts. Keep asking questions. Keep demanding answers. Continue collective activism. (See ideas in a previous post) Find a support group. Stay well informed. And for your own personal sanity, stop watching the news at least one day a week.
Notes from the Community Briefing
held Wednesday, June 20, 2018 in Seattle, WA
Speakers: Matt Adams, at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP); Juliann Bildhauer, Kinds in Need of Defense (KIND); Enoka Herat, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington.
What follows are notes written as a collection of what I learned from the lawyers and staff members who spoke a this briefing and are closely working with these families.
About two weeks ago they (NWIRP) began hearing about parents who were separated from their children and were being sent up to the detention center in Tacoma, WA. They tried, but could not find them. Finally, they found out they were in the prison at SeaTac, not the detention center…206 of them. These are people who were arrested after showing up to apply for asylum.
If you are seeking asylum, coming into the country - via the border entries or sneaking across the river - doesn’t matter – it is NOT illegal. On top of that, even those who came through the right channels were separated from their children and sent to prison.
Separating families isn’t a matter of law, but a change in policy. Under previous practice, families would typically be apprehended by law enforcement, then set free pending a date in court before an immigration judge. That all changed with the zero-tolerance policy. What’s happening now is that the zero-tolerance policy (policy NOT law) makes it a criminal offense to enter illegally so now the adults are jailed until their number is called. And that means taking away their children and putting them into custody as well—perhaps for a short time, perhaps permanently. Keep in mind, you do NOT have to enter the country legally to seek asylum and that is what we are talking about here.
Matt told a story of a woman he met with who wanted so desperately to be with her son that she said she would not seek asylum, but take her son and go back. They told her she would be deported, but without her son.
He told another story of a mother and child that were separated, but the mother had family here and they agreed to take care of her child. So, the authorities showed the young child a picture of a relative he had not seen in many years and asked if he recognized the man in the picture. The boy said no…so did the authorities. The boy is still locked up.
There are stories of parents who were led to a separate room to have their photo taken and when they return their children were gone. (so far no showers involved) And they are hearing that older children want to comfort younger ones and are told that they cannot touch them.
There are many children who have been separated from their grandmothers and aunts, but are not counted by the government because they are not the 'parent'. Another problem is that information linking parents and children is either not being taken or names are misspelled or information is incorrect. So, finding who belongs to whom is proving to be very difficult.
I know it is a lot to handle. It is overwhelming and we all have busy lives, but I encourage you to find ONE thing you can do (some action ideas) and collectively it will make a difference. Historically it does...over and over.
Bottom line: WE DON’T TRADE CHILDREN FOR A BORDER WALL.
I invite you into the conversation and ask that responses be respectful, intelligent and well thought out. In return, I promise to hear what you have to say with an open heart and curious mind. Peace.