L.Otero: Families Belong Together – A Recap of The Trump Administration’s Family-deterring Zero Tolerance Policy

Families Belong Together – A Recap of The Trump Administration’s Family-deterring Zero Tolerance Policy

Luis Otero: GALEO Intern

Monday, August 8th, 2018


Families Belong Together


As the Trump administration continues to deal with the influx of asylum seekers at its southern border, the extent of the practices and means by which it chooses to do this have come into public scrutiny. Outcries pointing to immoral and inhumane treatment by law enforcement agencies of those arrested attempting to cross continue to bring attention to the problem. Families are being torn apart with young children being separated from their parents. This has raised questions of the constitutionality of these measures, and many pro-immigrant advocacy groups have started protesting and denouncing these actions. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has taken legal action against U.S. immigration authorities in a lawsuit challenging the separation of families. All this following U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions’, May announcement of deciding to criminally prosecute 100 percent of all cases of illegal border crossings. This “zero tolerance” policy, as it has come to be known, not only puts the immigration issue front and center of national political headlines, but it also has called for an increased push for humane and decent treatment of immigrants and refugees as it pertains to both national and international standards.


Zero Tolerance Policy


On Monday, May 7th U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, announced at a law enforcement conference in Scottsdale, Arizona the Trump administration’s decision to take tougher measures on families crossing the U.S. border illegally that would entail the separation of parents and children. Sessions stated, “If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.” Soon thereafter, at a May 23rd Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing, U.S. Customs and Border Protection official Richard Hudson revealed that “from May 6 to May 19, 658 children were separated from their parents due to the zero-tolerance policy.” (politifact). And according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesperson, the actual figure of children separated from their parents over a six-week period beginning in mid-April through the end of May was 1,995 (NPR). These separations have deeply impacted both the parents and children, many of whom were already fleeing crime, violence, and persecution due to the political instability of their home countries.


Effects of the Policy


The zero tolerance policy is perpetuating a toxic environment for the emotional well-being of parents and children alike. Though the zero tolerance policy does not explicitly call for separation of parents from their children, this had been occurring since it does call for the criminal prosecution of any undocumented immigrant apprehended at the border. These parents are then transferred to a federal jail, and since children cannot be kept in this type of facilities, a separation is inevitable. The emotional trauma is devastating. According to a Washington Post article, Marco Antonio Muñoz, 39, took his life this past May 19th in the confinement of his jail cell after being separated from his family when attempting to cross the border (Washington Post). Moreover, the conditions in which these children are being kept in have come also been highly criticized. Images of children being held inside cages at immigration detention centers, such as in McAllen, Texas, have intensified the public outrage throughout the media. The pressure from many around the world, such as prominent celebrities and world leaders, pushed the President to take action to stop these separations.


Current Lawsuit Status


On June 20th, after immense pushback from thousands of peoples and organizations both domestically and international, President Donald Trump, signed an Executive Order that aimed at stopping the separations of families. However, this was only but a bandage to a much more serious humanitarian crisis wound, for the order did not fix the damage done. The President was not offering a clear plan to reunify the families already separated. Subsequently, almost a week after his signing of the Executive Order, the Courts took action. This past Tuesday evening, on June 26th, a federal judge in California issued an Order mandating the reunification of children and their families to happen expeditiously. According to the Order, children under 5 years of age must be reunited with their families within 14 days, while children 5 years and over must be reunited within 30 days. Additionally, the order also mandated that officials must provide contact with their already separated children within 10 days if the parents have not been in contact with them already. This preliminary injunction comes after a months-long class action lawsuit by the ACLU, Ms. L v. ICE, where the plaintiffs (ACLU) were “seeking to reunite an asylum-seeking mother and her 7-year-old daughter fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, only to be forcibly torn from each other in the U.S. and detained separately 2,000 miles apart.” (ACLU).


Call to Action


As this national humanitarian crisis continues to unfold, there is no doubt that Trump’s Administration will continue its hardline stance against immigrant asylum seekers. And whether we continue to read about it on electronic news outlets, see it on our social media timelines, or watch it on the evening TV news channel, the reality is that there is much that we, as ordinary, citizens can do to help the cause. Here are 5 recommendations:


  1. Support local pro-immigrant non-profit and grassroots organizations: you can do this by making a financial contribution or by donating your time and volunteering with these organizations.
  2. Continue to call Trump and his administration: the court order needs to be coupled with public pressure, so call (202) 456-1414 and demand the administration’s compliance with the court’s order to reunify families.
  3. Continue to raise awareness of the issue: tap into your networks both on social media as well as in person interactions. Remember, people will always care more when they are able to put a face to the story. Continue to educate yourself on the issue and always try to think about how it would feel to be in their circumstances.
  4. Get out and VOTE!: Your most powerful tool against political injustices, and one of the fundamental tenets of our democracy, is your right to VOTE and make your voice be heard. This year is a midterm elections year, and there will also be many federal (congressional), state, and local elections. Remember, your right to vote is the one tool that many of us do not have, so use it wisely.
  5. Join our efforts!: Text the word IMMIGRATION to 864237! You will get notices for action via text!


Remember in school when you were taught about the Civil Rights movement, or other instances of historical injustice, and you said to yourself that you would have been in the front lines of the movement fighting for your rights? Well, history is once again repeating itself. This is your calling to be on the right side of it, so in future generations when our posterity asks us what did we do during these times of great uncertainty and fear for our immigrant community, you will be able to say. “I was there, and I fought.”

Since the original writing of this article, there have been more updates on this issue. Please feel free to call GALEO if you have any questions or concerns. 

NOTE: The opinions expressed in this blog are the opinions of the author only. It is not to be assumed that the opinions are those of GALEO or the GALEO Latino Community Development Fund. For the official position on any issue for GALEO, please contact Jerry Gonzalez, Executive Director of GALEO at jerry@galeo.org. 

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