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Migrant Families & the “Zero-Tolerance Policy”

On June 17th, Donald Trump ordered ICE raids in 15 major cities across the U.S. to take place the following Sunday. This is the most recent effort among many to incarcerate families seeking asylum along the U.S.-Mexico border following the separation of migrant children from their parents, the youngest being as young as 4 months old. The results of the forced separations under the administration’s directions have resulted in the deaths of 24 immigrants (6 of whom were children, such as 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez) while being held in ICE custody.

Awareness of the plight of the migrant children has reached the progressive politicians, humanitarian organizations and the public on a historic level, which has created a wave of efforts to better understand the nuances involved in the Federal Immigrant system and how the families’ rights can easily fall through the cracks.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (U.S. Asylum Law), eligibility for asylum “applies to those who have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

The Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas website says that those who are looking to escape violence in their home countries do not “easily fit into these categories” and there have been times when judges in the immigration court system have granted asylum to migrants from Central America after interpreting this law to apply to such circumstances, provided there is demonstration of “a well-founded fear of persecution”. Under the international human rights treaty Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas migrants seeking asylum can also seek protection.

For migrant families, the ability to have an asylum case granted can vary markedly depending on a number of factors such as the judge, access to legal counsel, and location (the city in which a case is being held). What this means is that if 75% of cases in one city are granted, in another city, that rate drops significantly to the polar opposite rate of those granted versus those being denied.

For an asylum application to be accepted successfully, clients depend greatly upon access to legal counsel. A 2015 study by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) showed that without legal representation, the percentage of women with children applying for status in the U.S. who had passed their interviews for credible fear (a special eligibility criteria) was only 1.5%.

Access to legal counsel is said to be limited even further as a result of the current administration’s efforts to disenfranchise migrant families.

There has been a sharp increase of Migrants from Central American countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras due to an epidemic level of gang violence and threats for the purpose of recruitment, targeted towards vulnerable demographics like families with children and teenagers. This rise in violence has roots in the historical interference on the part of the US government by way of political networking.

Advocates for migrant families say the spike in Central American asylum seekers stems from politically-linked networks dating back to the Cold War, as well as ties to involvement by the Nixon administration via the so-called “War on Drugs”, which greatly heightened civil conflict within the region.

Criticisms of Trump’s “Zero Tolerance policy” describes the treatment of migrant children and their families in what has been called “torture facilities”. In a medical declaration, private practice physician Dolly Lucio Sevier, who was interviewed by ABC news, shared that she had been witness to such conditions. After assessing 39 children under the age of 18, she described conditions for unaccompanied minors at the McAllen facility as including “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food”.

For students at Central interested in helping migrant children and their families during this urgent crisis, the following resources are presented as a place to start:

Together Rising

Together Rising uses donations that pay for legal defense, prosecutors, and advocacy to reunite families with their children.

The Young Center

The Young Center for Immigrant Childrens’ Rights is taking donations for more advocates to help immigrant children with court proceedings, and also meets with the kids weekly.

The Thanks-Giving Foundation

The Thanks-Giving Foundation accepts donations and volunteers to help with the Oak Lawn Methodist Church Respite Center, where asylum seekers are staying while waiting to be sent from El Paso on their way to their families and sponsors in the U.S.

The Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition

The Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition helps refugees obtain access to hot meals, laundry, showers, restrooms, and phones.

The Children’s Immigration Law Academy

The Children’s Immigration Law Academy provides attorneys pro bono to children needing immigration-related services in addition to providing training to volunteers and providers with unaccompanied minors as clients.

The Human Rights Initiative of North Texas 

The Human Rights Initiative of North Texas provides detained asylum seekers in Texas with free legal advice.

The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services

RAICES says they “Provide free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees”.

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