Where are the children? Minneapolis immigration attorneys speak to the question on everyone’s mind.
On May 27th attorneys Kara Lynum (Twitter handle @karalynum), Brian Aust (@austlawyer) and Ana Pottraz Acosta (@apottratzacosta) kindly hosted an informational gathering to explain the recent policy shift by the administration regarding separating children from parents at the border, the reports of 1,500 missing children, and what people can do. The full video is posted below along with a summary and some new information and links (posted with permission by the attorneys, thanks for double checking this post for me!)
Intro Kara Lynum is an immigration attorney in the Twin Cities who has made multiple trips to the border to represent detained families. Ana Pottraz Acostsa is a professor at Mitchell Hamline as well as an immigration attorney. Brian Aust is a private attorney who does pro bono immigration law work, and has been down to the border as well. He is currently representing a client from El Salvador who is grappling with these issues. The event was kicked off with a message from staff at Annunciation House in El Paso (an agency working with families at the border): We frequently feel like we’re drowning down here with no support, my eyes teared up when I heard that you’re having this event. Thank you. About the1,475 missing kids These kids arrived at the border, were processed by CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) and then by HHS (Health and Human Services). NOTE: We're not talking about ICE when we’re talking about this specific issue: the two agencies involved are CBP and HHS. ICE deals with primarily with people in the country already, these agencies deal with people at the border seeking asylum or otherwise trying to enter the U.S. The news came out about a month ago that the kids processed by these agencies are unaccounted for, and awareness has skyrocketed. The agencies and procedures in play:
1) Unaccompanied children: When a child comes to the border unaccompanied by an adult, they’re immediately taken into custody by CBP. They’re usually kept in custody about 45 days while the government tries to find some place to put them. HHS oversees the housing of these children (not ICE) via their Unaccompanied Minor program. They did an audit of the 7,600 kids they’re supposed to currently be in charge of, and that’s where the 1,475 number came from. The major concern is trafficking and safety. In 2015, for example, eight children were trafficked to an egg farm in Ohio. HHS is supposed to check on these kids 30 days after release/placement, not a lot of oversight is happening. 2) Family detention: This has become more of an issue recently but has been around many decades. There was a noticeable uptick in people coming to the border form Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – primarily women and minor children but not exclusively. In 2014 Obama’s policy was to detain them. If they arrived as a family unit they were separated in this way: Fathers and possibly older male children were sent to one detention facility, mothers and younger children were sent to another. NOTE: It's also important to know these are private detention facilities (more info on detention centers in the U.S. here). They have large contracts with the Department of Homeland Security. People were/are are detained in these facilities until they can get a hearing for asylum; many are seeking asylum from horrific, life-threatening conditions. The government holds them to determine if they have a right to pursue a claim to asylum. What’s different about the Trump administration Recently the Trump administration has decided to address this continued influx by attempting to deter people by separating mothers and children. The previous administration separated fathers but kept mothers and young children together. Another difference: They are detaining and deporting people without giving them a chance to present their case for asylum, a right that is granted to them by both U.S. and International law. These people are not watching the news or social media for policy updates, they’re fleeing for their lives. They may not get the memo about kids being separated, so it will not be a deterrent. Also, when death is an alternative, those who are aware also may not have a choice but to risk it. The "deterrent" argument doesn't hold up. Moms and kids have at times been separated in the past – on an “ad hoc” basis (meaning is wasn’t officially policy but it happened). Parents would then be prosecuted for unlawfully entering the U.S. (entering the U.S. unlawfully is a misdemeanor. Many cases involving undocumented people involve a civil violation not a criminal misdemeanor – for example, people who came here lawfully but over-stay work visas are not in criminal violation of the law, it is a civil violation like not renewing your tabs. This is why the term "illegal" is a misnomer much of the time). In the past, kids whose parents were being prosecuted were placed into custody of HHS. What’s different now (over the last month) is that it’s become official policy. DOJ (Department of Justice) has announced it will prosecute all parents (sometimes without the chance to file for asylum), and separate all kids into custody of HHS. This is creating a lot more unaccompanied minors. So they’re reportedly putting the overflow into military bases, while they figure out next steps (possibly finding a sponsor for the children in the U.S.?) NOTE: There is no law requiring them to separate families. This is simply a policy change they’ve decided on. These families are asylum seekers, same as refugees. They risk their lives to get here and seek protection. They are being told lies like “we don’t give asylum any more” and then being arrested and separated. The lying and "turnbacks" at the border is also something that has happened before, but it’s now amped up. The dehumanizing rhetoric is also new. “Catch and Release” changes: When people appear at the border seeking asylum and pass a “credible fear” interview (meaning they may die if sent back to their country of origin), in the past they were generally released from jail to await a hearing. Catch and release is simply the ability to not be in jail while you’re applying for asylum here. Since Trump has taken office, there is a significant decrease in people who are released even after they pass their “credible fear” interview in the asylum process. They are still being held for months and months while waiting for their asylum hearing. This is another huge issue that’s emerging but not getting as much attention. What’s happening as a result of all the uproar?
HHS, the agency that oversees the unaccompanied minor program, is “looking into” the unaccounted-for kids. It’s unclear exactly what is being done, we’ll know more in the weeks ahead. The great Twitter Debate
From “oh my god, where are the kids” to “oh yay! The kids are fine and it’s better to ignore this” and back again. For those of you familiar, this thread went viral and started a lot of questioning. It was posted by a “friend of immigration attorneys” not sure if that qualifies as a thing?. This thread was re-tweeted in response by Kara Lynum (on of the attorneys at the event) and she feels it’s a good point/counter-point. What can be done? Action items from the attorneys:
1) Money Not always super fun, but it’s one of the best things possible things you can do. LOCALLY Advocates for Human Rights runs a 1-800 number for detained mothers being released from custody, provides legal representation to asylum-seekers and children seeking immigration status in the United States. Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota runs a detention hotline for detained immigrants in Minnesota and was able to add two attorneys to their deportation defense capacity because of donations. NATIONALLY Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas (receives immigrants after they are released from ICE custody and provides housing and legal services): They have an Amazon wish list , where they're asking for things like paper and toner, easy items! 2) Volunteer Advocates for Human Rights (needs all types of volunteers, seeing increased caseload of labor trafficking victims and asylum seekers): Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota needs all types of volunteers. 3) Political Action Contact your member of Congress. They will tally your calls, doesn’t have to be long. Just say “I’m against family separation” – same as what we did re. health care. Ask for oversight of CRB and HHS. They need to know we care about this. SCRIPT: I am against separation for families. Please conduct oversight on CBP, ICE and Health and Human Services. Please hold hearings and write letters to the agencies asking questions. From Q/A Session: Locally, we also need to vote out sheriff Richard Stanek in November, a Trump supporter and known ICE collaborator. More info on Stanek’s track record and DFL-endorsed candidate for sheriff Dave Hutchinson here. Please amplify this race and Dave Hutchinson. He will not be indicated as Democrat on the ballot b/c it is a non-partisan race, so spreading his name is essential and can’t start too soon! Write letters to the editors of your local papers! Letters that bust myths about immigrants and can help change the narrative are important, as well as those that request action! Attend potential June 14th march (better yet, sign up to be a coordinator). Stay tuned on this! Protests are important, they're another way to tell congress we’re concerned.
UPDATE FOR MN RESIDENTS: SPREAD THE WORD!
RALLY Wednesday, May 30th 6:30 AM – 9:00 AM
Senator Amy Klobuchar's office
1200 S Washington Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55415-1227, United States