Separating families: One attorney speaks out

rini border fence

Art by Rini Templeton

Kara Lynum is an immigration attorney in Minnesota. After reading about the latest Trump administration plan to punish refugee families by separating parents and children at the border, she wrote this string of Tweets on December 22. I’m republishing them here, with her permission, to offer a first-hand perspective on why this family separation policy is outrageously wrong:

So a little about me: I’m an immigration attorney and have made 4 trips to family detention centers to represent moms and kids seeking asylum – when I’m in MN, I’ve worked on their bond packets and repped them here in court.

First of all, these is nothing illegal about showing up at the border and asking for asylum. The detained moms and kids are largely from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and are fleeing domestic violence and/or horrific gang violence.

These are moms who have spent weeks (or maybe months) journeying north with their children to do something they are totally allowed to do: come to our border and ask for protection because their government can’t protect them.

Looking at my notes from November, here are some things I wrote during client interviews: “came to shop and said going to kidnap 10 yo son,” “gang member pulled her into alley and beat her,” “MS13 put her in raping house,” “gangs told 13yo daughter going to rape her”

So that’s what these families are fleeing. They show up at the border and if they’re lucky, CBP will actually do their jobs and process their fear claim. Sometimes CBP says “no, we don’t have asylum anymore” or just ignores their fear claim and deports them.

CBP is Customs and Border Protection, often called the Border Patrol. When they detain someone, they are supposed to determine whether or not the person is seeking asylum. If the person is seeking asylum, then CBP is supposed to turn them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which will conduct an interview and determine whether the person has established “credible fear” of persecution or torture if they are deported back to their home country. If the ICE officer determines “credible fear,” then the person can apply for asylum. If the ICE officer does not believe them, the law says they still have a right to appeal to an immigration judge.

So these moms and their kids are put in freezing cold “hieleras” and fed disgusting food until they’re put in a for-profit prison. Here are some pictures of the hieleras that came out through litigation because CBP doesn’t let anyone into them.

Hielera 1.png

Hielera 2.png

By the time they arrive at the detention facilities (prisons) in Dilley or Karnes, Texas (“South Texas Family Residential Center” and “Karnes County Residential Center”) or Berks, Pennsylvania (“Berks Family Residential Center”) – these moms and kids have gone through hell.

The kids are sick, the moms are sick, the food is foreign (and gross), the water in Dilley has high arsenic levels, no one tells them where they are – and now they’re in jail. All they wanted was to be safe. Who knows where their sister, husband, adult daughter, etc. ended up.

And now they need to apply for asylum – in Dilley, generally the only attorneys are the kind souls who make week-long trips to Dilley to go into the facility and represent the moms and their kids. The first step is a Credible Fear Interview.

So this is the first (and only) chance to tell their story to an asylum official and if they meet the Credible Fear threshold, they are eligible for a bond or they get an ankle monitor (grillete) and can leave the facility to go live with their family.

90% of these families are found to have Credible Fear. That means that almost all of these families that Trump wants to separate have viable claims for asylum in the United States.

If the asylum official says they don’t have a credible fear, then they have to go in front of an immigration judge – and then one person decides if they get to stay in the United States. Judges are completely inconsistent.

Whether or not an asylum claim is granted by an immigration judge has a lot to do with the luck of the draw—which judge gets the case. A University of Syracuse study found that in San Francisco, for example, “the odds of denial [of an asylum claim] varied from only 9.4 percent all the way up to 97.1 percent depending upon the judge you had.”

So this is a traumatic process. The kids are in a for-profit prison but at least they have their moms. The moms are absolute heroes – could you imagine packing up your kids with like $100 in your pocket and crossing deserts and dangerous border crossings

And some of these families had to leave kids behind – so you may have a mom with 2 of her older kids with her because they’re gang recruitment age but the younger ones are still in the home country b/c choices had to be made

So don’t talk to me about separating these families again. These are mothers who moved mountains to protect their kids. And these kids are TRAUMATIZED. I spoke with 12-13yo girls in these facilities and they rely 100% on their moms.

Separating these families is inhumane. It may be one of the most evil things this evil administration could do. These families did nothing wrong – this is not “illegal” immigration. Jailing them while they ask for asylum is wrong. We are the guilty party.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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