We Must Do Better: Four Immigration Stories


A Minnesota attorney reports on what she saw in Juarez. A lawsuit details medical neglect in immigration detention facilities. Immigrant veterans or immigrant spouses of vets lose rights. A nursing mother is separated from her four-month-old baby.

None of this is necessary. We can do better.

Kara Lynum is a Minnesota immigration attorney. On a number of trips to the southern border, she has volunteered to help asylum seekers stranded there. In an op/ed article in USA Today, she and a fellow attorney describe what they saw happening in Juarez, where asylum seekers are returned while they wait for their court hearings: 

“In Juarez, they’re dropped off at a facility on the Mexico side of the Paso del Norte bridge and then simply released onto the street. They lean on the assistance of non-profit and faith-based groups, but there are a finite number of shelters. We spent four days drafting asylum applications with families who had no other access to attorneys. We sat, sometimes on the floor and sometimes in the dark as power faltered, listening to the horrific tales of the dangers they fled in Central America and the danger they faced in Mexico. …

“Many of the asylum seekers we met with had been kidnapped (some had been kidnapped multiple times) or had managed to escape attempted kidnappings as cartels, gangs, and corrupt government officials easily target them [in Mexico]. Multiple women have reported being sexually assaulted and raped upon their return to Mexico. “

Not surprisingly, many of the asylum seekers struggling to stay alive in Mexico do not make it back to the United States for their second immigration court hearing. Those who do not return on the appointed day get summary orders of removal, with no appeal. 

Without attorneys, asylum seekers have a difficult-to-impossible task in presenting their cases to immigration judges. Even with an attorney, they face long odds. But the asylum seekers who are sent back to Mexico have no way to get attorneys: U.S. attorneys practice in the United States. “Since they are not permitted to stay in the United States,” Lynum writes, “any attorney willing to take these cases would have to prepare an asylum case entirely by phone or enter Juarez to meet with clients in conditions that lack space for confidential discussions and any guarantee of safety.” 

We can do better. Six out of seven asylum seekers who are admitted to the United States and released to await their next hearing show up at that hearing. If the number of bad notices and missed address changes was taken into account, the percentage would be even higher. More than 99 percent of asylum seekers who are represented by attorneys show up at all their hearings. We need to return to allowing asylum seekers to apply and remain in the United States, in safety, while awaiting their hearings. 

A class action lawsuit filed in Los Angeles on Monday, August 19, demands adequate medical care for immigrants who are detained in the United States while their cases move through the system. That makes the U.S. government responsible for their treatment while in custody. Among the instances of mistreatment described in the lawsuit

“Melvin Murillo Hernandez suffered allergic reactions so bad he had to be hospitalized four times. Martín Muñoz had no access to insulin for ten long days. Denied a wheelchair, Faour Abdallah Fraihat was unable to get to the cafeteria. 

“The men are three of 15 plaintiffs and two not-for-profit groups alleging “horrific conditions” and “torture” in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) detention centers in a new class-action lawsuit on behalf of 55,000 detainees. The plaintiffs, who live with conditions ranging from cerebral palsy and bipolar disorder to blindness and schizophrenia, accuse the US government of denying jailed migrants food, medicine, surgeries and the most basic accommodations for disabilities.” 

We can do better. The Eighth Amendment forbids cruel and unusual punishment: denying insulin or wheelchairs or medical treatment is cruel and unusual punishment. We must do better—not only for people held in immigration detention centers but for all people imprisoned in inhumane and abusive conditions in U.S. prisons. 

Last week, U.S. immigration officials announced new and harsher regulations implementing the “public charge” provision that can bar immigrants from receiving a green card. The harsher regulations do not apply to some  categories of immigrants, including members of the military. Veterans, however—they get the full force of the new regulations

“Top officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs declined to step in to try to exempt veterans and their families from a new immigration rule that would make it far easier to deny green cards to low-income immigrants, according to documents obtained by ProPublica under a Freedom of Information Act request.

“The Department of Defense, on the other hand, worked throughout 2018 to minimize the new policy’s impact on military families.

“As a result, the regulation, which goes into effect in October, applies just as strictly to veterans and their families as it does to the broader public, while active-duty members of the military and reserve forces face a relaxed version of the rule.” 

Along with more than a dozen other states, Minnesota is suing to overturn the new public charge regulations. Whether or not that action is successful, the administration’s refusal to consider the needs of veterans and their families is appalling. We can do better.

On August 7, hundreds of immigration agents from all over the country swooped down on poultry plants in six small Mississippi towns and arrested 680 workers. Within a few days, about 300 workers were released pending trial. The official line was that parents would be released so that their children would not be alone. That didn’t happen for Maria Domingo-Garcia.

“Maria Domingo-Garcia left for work 12 days ago, and she hasn’t been home.

“The mother of three has been separated from her 4-month-old daughter — who she still breastfeeds — since being picked up during a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid at Koch Foods in Morton, Mississippi….

“She’s being held at a facility in Jena, Louisiana, which is nearly 200 miles from Morton.”

We do not need to separate nursing mothers and babies. We do not need to penalize veterans and their spouses. We do not need to hold immigrants in inhumane and medically dangerous conditions, or to exile asylum seekers to cities where they face kidnapping, rape, and other assaults. We can do better. We must do better.


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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