47 Days and Still Counting for Almost 500 Children

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As children wait in the United States, lawyers and human rights workers trek across the countryside and up and down the mountains of Central America, looking for the parents who have been deported. The ACLU’s Lee Gelernt explains:

“To find the parents face-to-face, Gelernt said, some of the areas are so remote it can take days just to reach a single parent. And there are other areas, he said, “that are just too dangerous” at certain times of the day….

“He also said some parents are impossible to contact because they work during the day and then can’t leave their homes at night, due to fear — or by the rule — of gangs.”

They have found close to half of those parents so far. Once the parents are located, they must make an agonizing choice: Do they want their children to be returned to them to face the dangers they fled? Or do they want their children to remain in the safety of the United States, pursuing asylum petitions that might separate the families forever?

“What we have seen on the phone calls, but especially when I was there this week, is that the parents feel it is too dangerous for the child to come back,” Gelernt said. “I mean, we’ve had some very difficult conversations with the parent … where the parent is saying as much as they ultimately want to be with the child, as heartbreaking as it is, that they feel like it’s too dangerous for the child to come back.”

About two out of three of the deported parents who have been located have chosen safety over reunification.

Many children reunited with their parents in the United States still suffer from the trauma of separation. The Atlantic tells the story of a six-year-old boy separated from his mother for months:

“Jenri began to perseverate on the phrase. He screamed “No touch!” again and again. Then, he threw himself face down on the bed and yelled at Anita through tears. “Just take me back to jail,” he cried. “You’re not my mom anymore.”

“When he finally fell asleep, Anita stood in the darkness outside.“The separation was so long.” she said. “My son has changed so much.”

“The trauma of separation “can disrupt the architecture of a child’s brain,” explained Julie Linton, a co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Immigrant Health Special Interest Group. Prolonged separation weaponizes a child’s fight-or-flight response, elongating it into toxic stress that can damage health in both the short and long term, she said.”

Subverting Immigration Courts

Adding to his previous (and previously debunked) criticism of “dirty immigration attorneys,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told new immigration judges on Monday to beware of immigration attorneys “like water seeping through an earthen dam to get around the plain words of (immigration law) to advance their clients’ interests.” As CNN notes:

“Sessions approves every judge hired and can instruct them on how to interpret law, and thus decide cases, as well as how to manage cases. He has used that authority multiple times in the past year, including issuing a sweeping ruling that will substantially narrow the types of cases that qualify for asylum protections in the US. Those decisions overrode the evolution of years of immigration judges’ and the immigration appellate board’s decisions.”

New York Judge Amiena Khan, the executive vice president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, denounced the quotas that go into effect next month. The New York Times reported her characterization of the Sessions changes as “an attempt to turn judges from neutral arbiters into law enforcement agents enacting Trump administration policies.”

“They could do anything”

In a lengthy and fascinating Q&A, an anonymous USCIS agent described their daily dilemma of feeling complicit in Trump/Sessions policies, trying to mitigate the effect of those policies, and wondering how long their can remain in their job:

“In the cases I’ve seen, these women have been assigned attorneys pro bono from great nonprofits, and all the attorneys hated me. To them, I represent what is wrong, and that makes sense, because I would be so angry at the officer sitting across from me if I were them. But I am not trying to be a monster. I am trying to do my job and give them a chance. The attorneys after a while would start to see that I’m being human; you could see the shift as I talked to these women. But at the end of the day, you represent a system that is not being fair, not providing any fairness to these individuals, and you look these women in their eyes, and you know all of it is wrong, and then, right there, again it makes me feel like I’m complicit. That I should not be there, that I should be fighting this….

“You thought about quitting after Matter of A-B- came down. But you didn’t. What would be your breaking point? When would you quit?

“I think about it all the time. I don’t know yet where the line is.

“I think sometimes, for a minute, that things will be OK, and then things get worse. There was Sessions telling judges to oppose continuances for all reasons, and there was the separation of kids from their families. There was Matter of A-B-. For me, there is still space to be fair, and to provide opportunities for people. But at this point, I can’t yet fathom what will happen next. I don’t want to, but I’m sure it will come. I never thought they would take kids away from their parents. What else could they do? They did that, so they could do anything.”

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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, www.tcdailyplanet.net, 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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