Toddler trials and family values

Mateo and father

Mateo and his father (Photo by Pueblos Sin Fronteras)

One-year-old Mateo is back with his mother, after 85 days in ICE custody. His parents fled violence in El Salvador, crossing the border and asking for asylum in the United States. Mateo and his father, Jose Demar Fuentes, 30, crossed into the United States in November. HIs father was jailed, and immigration authorities took Mateo away from him. They wouldn’t tell the father where Mateo was. They said they didn’t know whether he was really the toddler’s father, despite his name on Mateo’s birth certificate.

Mateo’s mother, Olivia Caceres, crossed the border with his brother on December 28. They were released to relatives, but immigration refused to give Mateo back to her. They said they couldn’t be sure she was his mother.

Finally, after 85 days away from his parents, Mateo was reunited with his mother and brother on February 8. HIs father is still in immigration jail. Buzzfeed reports:

“Caceres thinks it will be a while before Mateo returns to his normal self after spending 85 days in federal custody. For now she has to be within his sights or he starts to cry. She’s also upset because he came back with lice and what appears to be an eye infection.

“I don’t even want to imagine how they were treating him if they returned him to me like this,” Caceres said. “More than anything I’m glad he’s with me, now we just have to worry about his dad.”

Caceres explained to PBS why the family split up on the journey, with Mateo and his father going ahead while she and another son traveled more slowly:

“She says the family split up in Northern Mexico because they were in a rush to get Mateo to the border. The boy was weak and dehydrated after weeks of traveling. The couple didn’t have enough money for the four of them to get to the border right away.”

According to Amnesty International, Mateo is not the only child forcibly taken from his parents as they seek asylum:

“ ICE authorities visited the group four times on 16 November, using intimidation tactics to coerce the fathers to give up their children to shelters. They denied the fathers’ requests to use a phone, told them that their asylum claims would be compromised, and demanded the children be given up to prevent their being taken by force. Despite the fathers’ refusal to be separated from their children, under duress, three of the fathers surrendered their children. The fourth refused and his child was violently removed.”

As dramatic as Mateo’s story is, legislation introduced in the Senate and House poses even greater dangers to immigrant families. The Trump agenda calls for eliminating many family visa categories, and slashing overall immigration. Also proposed: eliminating any protection for unaccompanied minors, mandating speedy deportation without asylum hearings.

Apart from legislation, the Trump administration is preparing draconian administrative rules on public benefits, which would limit working class immigration, and which would not need Congressional approval. According to the Center for American Progress, “Knowing that it lacks congressional support for restricting family-based immigration, the administration is now preparing to go nuclear” via the rule-making route. 

These are right-wing family values, as expressed in immigration policy. 

Family values and other immigration news

Trump’s draft plan to punish legal immigrants for sending US-born kids to Head Start (Vox, 2/8/18)

“The Trump administration is working on new rules that would allow the government to keep immigrants from settling in the US, or even keep them from extending their stays, if their families had used a broad swath of local, state, or federal social services to which they’re legally entitled — even enrolling their US-born children in Head Start or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).”

Trump plans new limits on family immigration, access to services (Center for American Progress, 2/12/18)

“A draft rewrite of long-standing immigration rules being developed by the Trump administration would intentionally skirt the U.S. Congress to place sharp, new restrictions on working-class immigrants’ ability to reunite with their family members. The draft radically reinterprets an obscure 1882 provision in federal immigration law—known as the public-charge provision—in a way that departs from more than a century of precedent established by courts and the executive branch.

“As a practical matter, the plan would significantly restrict family-based legal immigration from Mexico and other countries that have been the subject of the administration’s racist and discriminatory animus. Moreover, the plan would effectively deny the premium tax credit, means-tested health insurance, Pell Grants, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), other nutrition assistance, and other public benefits to many immigrants who are lawfully residing in the United States as well as to U.S.-citizen children living in immigrant families. Immigrants seeking family-based visas would be penalized simply for being eligible for various programs.”

Family Reunification is the Bedrock of U.S. Immigration Policy (Center for American Progress, 2/12/18)

“Remembering that family unity has always been a bedrock of American immigration policy, as well as a way to illustrate the hypocrisy of exclusionary policies based on race and national origin, helps clarify the stakes of today’s debate and expose just how far outside the mainstream the current attacks on family exist.”

Fact Sheet: Family Based Migration (National Immigration Forum, 1/30/18) Did you know that:

  • Family based visas require a sponsor in the U.S., application, numerous screenings and background checks, interview, fee and medical examination.
  • Getting a family-based visa takes years, often decades.
  • There’s no flood of family members—each immigrant sponsors an average of 3.5 family members, including spouses and minor children.

Immigration agents arrest Houston father of five on his way to work (Houston Chronicle, 2/12/18)

“The advocacy group FIEL Houston said Friday that it was the latest example of what it said appears to be an increasingly common federal practice to target predominantly Hispanic apartment complexes early in the morning on the pretext of looking for specific suspects, then questioning bystanders without any evidence that they are illegally here….

“The thing we want to highlight is that when immigration agents had the interaction with (Andres,) there was no way for them to know what his status was,” Espinosa said. “Are they questioning everybody? Or are they just questioning workers with tools early in the morning?”

The Evolving Rights of Deportable Immigrants as Seen in the Case of Ravi Ragbir (Cyrus Mehta Insightful Immigration Blog, 2/12/18)

“The decision in Ragbir v. Sessions is astounding as it acknowledged the right of a removable person to say goodbye to loved ones and leave in an orderly and dignified fashion, especially one who did not pose a flight risk, was not a danger to the community and who was routinely checking in with ICE. The Court wrote that “[i]t ought not to be – and it has never before been – that those who have lived without incident in this country for years are subjected to treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust.”

“Although the Court’s decision granting the habeas corpus petition was thin on legal authority, it broadly relied on the Fifth Amendment’s liberty and due process guarantees.”

An immigrant who went to police for help was detained and handed over to immigration officials (Newsweek, 2/12/18)

“The man had called police with concerns over a “suspicious person” trespassing onto his property at around 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, police said in a Facebook post. …

They did a routine warrant check on the man—though he was the complainant, the victim, not a suspect. They came up with an ICE warrant and called immigration.

“Only after the man’s arrest did they realize the warrant had been an administrative one from ICE, rather than a judicially issued warrant.”

That’s just a warrant signed by an ICE agent: no judicial review, no probably cause needed. The police department said it is clarifying the difference between administrative and judicial warrants and changing its procedure. But that’s too late for the man who called police for help and now sits in an ICE jail.




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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