Speaking of Women's Rights: Act Now: We Must Stop Separating Immigrant Families

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Act Now: We Must Stop Separating Immigrant Families

By Sarah Smith and Sara Ainsworth

This week, Legal Voice and our allies learned that 206 people who came to the United States seeking asylum had been transferred from Texas and were now detained at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac. Most are from Cuba, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, and say they fled threats of rape, gang violence, and political persecution in their home countries. The SeaTac FDC is not to be confused with the immigration-focused detention center, Northwest Detention Center, in Tacoma. To the contrary, The SeaTac FDC is generally used only for those serving criminal sentences or awaiting trial on federal charges; this is not the only federal prison being used for such purposes. These detainees presented themselves to border agents in order to seek asylum, only to find themselves thrown head-first into a criminal proceeding they did not ask for.

Among these detainees are 174 women, many of whom had their children taken away from them at the border. Of the 170 or so women detained, more than half reported that they had been separated from their children. The ages of the children, range from 12 months to 16 years old. These children were forcibly separated from their parents, sometimes under false pretenses that the children are being taken for questioning or a bath. Most of these children are not held in Washington State, and are instead held in unknown locations under the supervision of the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services. These women have expressed fear of returning to their home countries and came here to find safety for themselves and their children; now, they have no idea if or when they will see their children again.

The Trump Administration recently implemented these policies as a way to deter families from trying to reach the United States. The Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting everyone who crosses the border without permission, even those who do so to request asylum, specifically targets women and children who most in need of protection. Instead of processing their asylum claims as immigration law requires them, border agents arrested these migrants and charged them unlawful entry, a misdemeanor offense, for crossing the border without permission. Many of the detainees pled guilty to the charge, believing that a guilty plea was their best chance at being reunited with their children. Instead, they were sentenced to time served, the lightest punishment possible, and transferred to ICE custody and now face deportation if their asylum claims are not successful.
  
Meanwhile, the Trump Administration further rolled back asylum protections for women on Monday when AG Jeff Sessions announced that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence likely do not qualify for protection under US asylum law. Under asylum law, a person who has a reasonable fear of persecution in their home country based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion that the home country’s government cannot or will not prevent has a claim for asylum. Until Monday, that included women in “domestic relationships” from some Central American countries who had been victims of intimate partner violence and could not leave the abusive relationship. Characterizing such harms as “private,” the Trump Administration has turned its back on its obligations under US and international humanitarian law. This new approach does nothing to protect Americans, and it certainly does not help victims of domestic abuse and gang violence.

Contrary to what someone is saying on Twitter, there is no law requiring immigrant families to be separated at the border. The decision to charge everyone crossing the board with illegal entry and the decision to put asylum seekers into criminal and deportation proceedings are 100% discretionary choices on the part of the Trump Administration. These choices harm women not only in the United States, but they also hurt women right here in Washington. We must not stand idly by while the rights of women and children are trampled in this way.

Here's how you can take action:
  • You can sign petitions - find them at Families Belong Together. Follow Families Belong Together for more actions.
     
  • There are several rallies and events scheduled for today and beyond. Look here for one near you.
     
  • Donate your time or money to the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP). If you are a lawyer in Washington State who speaks Spanish or Cantonese, NWRIP needs you. They are connecting the people detained here in Washington with lawyers to learn about their cases. And if you don’t speak those languages, but could volunteer to take on an asylum case, let NWIRP know as well.
     
  • If you are in Washington, you can support Northwest Detention Center Resistance. Find out about their events on their Facebook page.
     
  • Contact your Senators to tell them you support the Keep Families Together Act, which Senator Diane Feinstein and 31 colleagues introduced on June 8th.
**UPDATE** Here are more actions you can take:
  • Participate in the daily vigils at Seattle ICE office. The vigil/rally is concentrated from 8–10 a.m. but participants are welcome all day long. Occurs daily from now until July 6th.

  • Attend the RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education & Legal Services) webinar on June 21. Learn more and register here.

  • Make a donation to the RAICES Family Reunification and Bond Fund.

  • Participate in the national day of action on June 30. If you are in Seattle, please join Legal Voice and our allies at the 10:00 a.m. rally at Jackson Federal Building.

  • More ideas from Vu Le of Nonprofit AF here.
Please act now. We can't give up.

Photo by MichaƂ Parzuchowski on Unsplash