Children, asylum seekers, and refugees

Wall mural Nogales McIntosh

Border wall mural, photo by Jonathan McIntosh, used under Creative Commons license

Judge Dana Sabraw is scheduled to issue another ruling later today on the family reunification case. Last week, the Trump administration told the court that the ACLU should bind the families the government has deported.

Yes. The Trump administration separated children from their parents, and did not keep records of their location. The Trump administration deported more than 400 parents without their children. And now they say that they don’t know where the deported parents are—and that the ACLU should find them.

Last week, Judge Sabraw called the government’s lack of progress “just unacceptable” and said, “The reality is that for every parent who is not located there will be a permanently orphaned child and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration.”

Some fathers detained with their sons at the Karnes Detention Center in Texas are protesting with a hunger strike. While the number of fathers participating is not clear, their frustration is:

“What is clear either way is that at least some of the parents being held in detention after being reunited with their families felt stuck in limbo, without an idea what’s going to happen next to them — even as that question is being litigated in federal courts on the West Coast and East Coast — and that their frustration with being detained is reaching a level of desperation….

The government isn’t deporting them, but it isn’t releasing them either. And it’s not giving them access to asylum officers or telling them what’s going on.”

Refugees and asylum seekers

The U.S. government continues to block and oppose both asylum and refugees at every step of the way. Next year, the Trump administration plans to cut refugee admissions even further. This year, the cap was set at a historic low of 45,000, and admissions will fall below that number. The number for next year has not yet been set, but one plan calls for a reduction to 25,000.

Also turned away or told to wait: Afghan and Iraqi interpreters and their families, whose lives are at risk because they worked for the U.S. Army.

When asylum seekers get to court, their fate depends in large part on what city and what judge they get. One immigration judge in Houston denied about 97 percent of the asylum cases he heard from 2012 to 2017. The overall denial rate in Houston during those five years was 87 percent, compared to 17 percent in New York City.

The second of three reports from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) documents obstacles placed before asylum seekers trying to enter at ports of entry, and outlines solutions.

“Ranging from leaving families out in the sun and heat for days as they wait to enter the U.S. to misinforming migrants on their rights to come onto US land and request asylum, CBP actions at ports of entry are escalating in severity and are threatening, if not already violating, various human rights laws. The distinction between those migrants entering the country ‘fairly and legally’ through the ports and those ‘sneaking in’ between the ports is a misguided comparison. Most migrants do not have the autonomy to choose the exact location in which they will attempt to enter the United States. Obstacles varying from coyotes to gruesome conditions of gang and criminal violence throughout Mexico make it such that passing through a port of entry is not always an obvious or feasible choice for people fleeing….

“The vulnerable population waiting to access the ports of entry is attempting to enter the United States the “right” way. At the height of the family-separation crisis, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted, “You are not breaking the law by seeking asylum at a port of entry.” However, as WOLA and other organizations have documented, asylum seekers continue to face obstacles to legally seek protection in the U.S. In recent months CBP officers have positioned themselves at the border, pre-screening people before they are allowed to enter U.S. territory and repeatedly denying asylum-seekers entry into the country, forcing them to wait days or even weeks in hot and in some areas dangerous Mexican border towns for a chance to pursue protection in the United States….

“In other instances, border agents waiting at smaller ports of entry have told migrants that they no longer process asylum seekers and redirect them to larger ports that are as far as 50 miles away. However, all ports of entry are legally designated to accept asylum seekers and initiate a process for those seeking protection….

“CBP’s Office of Field Operations is severely understaffed. “Ports of entry across the United States have 4,000 Port Officers less than the number needed to staff all ports of entry,” reads a May 2018 analysis of personnel data by the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s Democratic staff.  That means the agency only has 85 percent of the staff that it needs to do its job. Even though more than 90 percent of heroin and 80 percent of fentanyl is seized at the ports of entry, the report notes, the crossings are so understaffed that they must make do with personnel temporarily transferred from airports.”

What can be done? WOLA’s list:

  1. CBP must dramatically expand its capacity to receive the asylum-seekers who present themselves at ports of entry.
  2. Prioritize hiring for the Office of Field Operations, which means the ports of entry, not Border Patrol.
  3. The DHS Inspector General must investigate and report on the causes for the slow pace of asylum receptions at the ports.
  4. Increase the number of trained, professional, impartial immigration judges as a way to reduce wait times and backlogs for asylum cases.
  5. Guarantee legal representation for all unaccompanied minors. No child should go to court alone and unrepresented.

See the first report, on the impact of zero tolerance at the border, here.

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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