There are some phrases that get stuck in the brain, like a raspberry seed between teeth: “As young as one.” For days now I’ve haven’t been able to forget it: “As young as one.”
The Associated Press headline was simple and clear: “Kids as young as 1 in US court, awaiting reunion with family.” Astrid Galvin reported on July 8, 2018: “The 1-year-old boy in a green button-up shirt drank milk from a bottle, played with a small purple ball that lit up when it hit the ground and occasionally asked for ‘agua.’
“Then it was the child’s turn for his court appearance before a Phoenix immigration judge, who could hardly contain his unease with the situation during the portion of the hearing where he asks immigrant defendants whether they understand the proceedings. ‘I’m embarrassed to ask it, because I don’t know who you would explain it to, unless you think that a 1-year-old could learn immigration law,’ Judge John W. Richardson told the lawyer representing the 1-year-old boy.”
As Galvin explains it, our nation’s immigration court system now requires children, “some still in diapers — to have appearances before judges and go through deportation proceedings while separated from their parents. Such children don’t have a right to a court-appointed attorney, and 90 percent of kids without a lawyer are returned to their home countries, according to Kids in Need of Defense, a group that provides legal representation.” (Emphasis added.)
Why is this happening? This time around it’s a potent coalition of right-wing politicians, spurred on by the president’s extreme distaste for those immigrants of color seeking to exercise their right to apply for asylum. The Republicans and our president need to confuse the issue by insisting these people—unlike Melania and her parents, who bring exceptional skills and greatness to our land—are criminals. You’ll almost never hear the words “asylum seekers.” Instead, we’re offered a constant drumbeat of “illegal immigrants.” The argument: If they weren’t criminals, they would play by the rules: Making an official application in El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala, they would trust the process and wait their turn.
There is, of course, a major flaw to this argument. In fact, United States Immigration law ever so clearly requires an applicant for asylum to be physically present in the United States. According to “Obtaining Asylum in the United States: The two ways of obtaining asylum in the United States are through the affirmative process and defensive process.Affirmative Asylum Processing With USCIS:
To obtain asylum through the affirmative asylum process you must be physically present in the United States. You may apply for asylum status regardless of how you arrived in the United States or your current immigration status.
“A defensive application for asylum occurs when you request asylum as a defense against removal from the U.S. For asylum processing to be defensive, you must be in removal proceedings in immigration court with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).”
Either way these people are on United States soil.” (Emphasis added.)
Sadly, the spectacle of children appearing before Immigration judges pre-dates the Trump administration. On October 22, 2014, the ACLU wrote of the Obama administration: “Each week, in immigration courts across the United States, hundreds of children, some as young as a few months old, come before immigration judges and are called upon to defend themselves against deportation. Among them is Arturo, a three-year-old who arrived at the United States border in April 2014 because family members feared for his life in El Salvador. Although he is only a toddler, the government has put him … into deportation proceedings on his own. He has no attorney to help him explain to the court why he should not be deported.
“Arturo’s case is not unusual. According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, less than a third of children with immigration cases pending in June 2014 had legal representation.” (Emphasis added.)
In fact, the Obama administration enlisted the testimony of a senior Justice Department official to argue in Seattle in federal court that “3- and 4-year-olds can learn immigration law well enough to represent themselves in court, staking out an unconventional position in a growing debate over whether immigrant children facing deportation are entitled to taxpayer-funded attorneys.
“Jack H. Weil, a longtime immigration judge who is responsible for training other judges, made the assertion in sworn testimony in a deposition in federal court in Seattle. His comments highlighted the plight of thousands of juveniles who are forced to defend themselves each year in immigration court amid a surge of children from Central America who cross the southwestern U.S. border.
“‘I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds,’ Weil said. ‘It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.’ (Emphasis added.)
Depending on your outrage scale, Democrats and Republicans have both participated in highly questionable or deeply immoral activities when it comes to denying immigrant children rights to a fair hearing.
But back to today’s zero tolerance. Here’s the factsheet that is currently given to immigrant parents: Zero Tolerance Immigration Prosecutions – Family Fact Sheet: “The Attorney General directed United States Attorneys on the Southwest Border to prosecute all amenable adults who illegally enter the country, including those accompanied by their children, for 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a), illegal entry.
“Children whose parents are referred for prosecution will be placed with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
“After the conclusion of any criminal case, individuals will be transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for appropriate immigration proceedings.
“Any individual processed for removal, including those who are criminally prosecuted for illegal entry, may seek asylum or other protection available under law.
“Alien children may also present an individual claim for asylum and depending on the circumstances, may undergo separate immigration proceedings.”
Amber Jamieson of Buzzfeed offers a look at the court proceedings of two “alien” children in El Paso, Texas: “The two little boys squeezed next to each other on the studded leather chair at the front of Courtroom 4 in the El Paso Immigration Court on Thursday, happily hitting each other with a blow-up toy gavel given to them by the judge.
‘What’s your name?’ asked Judge Robert Hough. An interpreter repeated the question in Spanish to the smallest one.
‘Es un avion’ — ‘It’s a plane!’ — the boy replied, pointing at a picture book with an illustration of a plane.
“After the question was repeated, the boy told the court his name was Roger. The judge asked his age. Roger didn’t answer the question, too distracted by the gavel and the book and the new surroundings. His lawyer responded that Roger was 3 years old. The boy next to him in the chair was 5.
“Roger crossed the border with his father, and they’d been separated by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE. His father is detained, though Roger’s lawyer does not know where. She has, however, spoken with him …
“Not that Roger understood what was happening. He wore a checkered blue shirt and practiced his colors by pointing — “azul,” “gris,” “blanco.” He played with the Velcro on the pockets of his navy blue cargo pants and removed his brand-new brown leather loafers, telling strangers in the waiting room outside that he wore a size 10 shoe.
“Smiling photos of President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions hung in the waiting room of the immigration court. Roger and Basilio, the 5-year-old boy attending his own hearing, struggled, like all little kids, to sit patiently …
“The Alien Registration Number, or A-number, given to Basilio’s lawyer for Basilio’s father does not match any records in the court system.
“Why that is I’m not sure,” said Judge Hough, noting that an expedited deportation may have taken place.
“I’m kinda at a loss right now to verify what’s going on, but you understand the court’s continued concern about how these cases are being handled,” the judge said.” (Emphasis added.)
The judiciary has challenged the Trump’s administration’s haphazard and poorly planned decision to separate families. U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw recently ordered the administration to stick to a deadline to immediately reunite children under 5 separated from their parents at the border, ordering the reunification of children over 5 by July 26. “The government must reunite them,” the judge said. “It must comply with the time frame unless there is an articulable reason.”
Then, a few days later, Judge Dolly M. Gee of the Federal District Court in Los Angeles ruled there was no reason to waive the requirement that children held during the immigration process must be released to licensed care programs within 20 days.
On his way to Europe, President Trump was asked about these court decisions.The president’s answer: “Well, I have a solution. Tell people not to come to our country illegally. That’s the solution. Come like other people do. Come legally.”
A member of the press asked: “Is that what you’re saying? You’re punishing the children?” “I’m saying this: we have laws. We have borders. Don’t come to our country illegally. It’s not a good thing … There is nobody under greater danger than the people from ICE. What they do to MS-13 … We want no crime, and we want borders where borders mean something.” (Emphasis added)
During his recent trip abroad, President Trump couldn’t help but express his pervasive dislike for immigrants. He told the British tabloid the Sun: “I think what has happened to Europe is a shame. Allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame. I think it changed the fabric of Europe and, unless you act very quickly, it’s never going to be what it was and I don’t mean that in a positive way. So I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad. I think you are losing your culture. Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist ten or 15 years ago.”
As an example, he cited an unnamed hospital in one of those unnamed certain areas: “One British hospital is so bad that it has ‘blood all over the walls’ … They had a story in one of the major New York newspapers recently about your hospital. You know about that story? I’m sure you’ve seen it. What they say is, it is worse than any hospital they have ever seen in a war zone. It is right in the middle of London. I guess it used to be the ultimate and now there is, you know, there is blood all over the walls, all over the floors … so I think it is very sad. Very sad.”
When asked about those comments while standing beside British Prime Minister Theresa May at their joint press conference, President Trump continued on: “I think it’s been bad for Europe. I know Europe very well and it’s been tough. We’ve seen some terror attacks. I just think it’s changing the culture and is very negative for Europe and Germany — I have a great relationship with Angela Merkel, but it’s hurt Germany and other parts of Europe. It’s not politically-correct to say that, but I’ll say it and say it loud. Look at what’s happening to different countries that never had problems — it’s a very sad situation. It’s not good for Europe and it’s not good for our country. We have very bad immigration laws. We’re doing incredibly well considering we virtually don’t have immigration laws — I don’t even call them laws, you just walk across the border and then you’re tied in a lawsuit for five years.”
When asked if immigration had damaged the cultural fabric of Europe, Theresa May, without hesitation stated: “The U.K. has a proud history of welcoming people who flee persecution or want to contribute to our economy and society. Over the years, immigration has been good for the U.K. What is important is we have control of our borders and a set of rules to determine who comes into our country.”
All of this is so very ironic considering our history. We are a republic that began with our immigrant founders wresting the land from its natives and, during our history, we have increased our numbers and prosperity by absorbing succeeding waves of immigrants from China, Ireland, Italy, eastern Europe, Africa, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, from countries around the world.
Today, for many reasons, these mothers and fathers, aunts or uncles now separated from their children believed that, by walking thousands of miles from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador through Mexico, we might offer them a way out, a chance at a decent life far from pervasive gang violence and vast government corruption, abusive husbands, human trafficking and wage slavery, because they had heard there was a process for those who sought asylum and a better life in the United States.
Unfortunately, most of them didn’t know that the Trump administration had decided to make the asylum process almost impossible. As the Washington Post reported in May: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that the Justice Department will begin prosecuting every person who illegally crosses into the United States along the Southwest border, a hard-line policy shift focusing in particular on migrants traveling with children.
“In separate speeches — one in Scottsdale, Ariz., the other in San Diego — Sessions said the Department of Homeland Security will begin referring such cases to the Justice Department for prosecution. Federal prosecutors will “take on as many of those cases as humanly possible until we get to 100 percent,” he said.
“If you cross the border unlawfully . . . then we will prosecute you,” Sessions said. “If you smuggle an illegal alien across the border, then we’ll prosecute you . . . If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.” (Emphasis added.)
Almost immediately, reporters began to investigate the consequences of the Sessions policy and the impacts of the separation process on asylum seekers. On April 27, 2018, Garance Burke of the Associated Press wrote: “Federal officials lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children last year after a government agency placed the minors in the homes of adult sponsors in communities across the country, according to testimony before a Senate subcommittee Thursday.
“The Health and Human Services Department has a limited budget to track the welfare of vulnerable unaccompanied minors, and realized that 1,475 children could not be found after making follow-up calls to check on their safety, an agency official said.”
Avery Anapol wrote that McClatchy, “after analyzing HHS data, reported Tuesday that the actual number is likely closer to 6,000. HHS officials said originally that they completed welfare checks on 7,635 migrant children, and that 14 percent of the sponsor homes were unresponsive. According to federal data reviewed by McClatchy, the government placed nearly 42,500 children with sponsors in fiscal year 2017. Using the 14 percent figure, McClatchy estimated that about 5,945 children are likely unaccounted for … in 2016, President Obama’s final year, more than 52,000 children were placed with sponsors, making even more likely unaccounted for.”
On June 27, 2018, the Texas Tribune reported that “the 2,000-plus separated children will likely need to deal with court proceedings even as they grapple with the ongoing trauma of being taken from their parents. ‘We were representing a 3-year-old in court recently who had been separated from the parents. And the child — in the middle of the hearing — started climbing up on the table,’ said Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles. ‘It really highlighted the absurdity of what we’re doing with these kids.’”
On June 19, 2018, NBC News interviewed John Sandweg, the former head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who noted that migrant parents separated from their children at the border are sometimes unable to relocate their children and can remain permanently separated.
“‘Permanent separation. It happens,’ said John Sandweg, who served as acting director of ICE under the Obama administration from 2013-2014. Sandweg’s warning contradicts White House messaging that the separation of women and children migrants under the Trump administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy is only temporary.
“While a parent can quickly move from detention to deportation, a child’s case for asylum or deportation may not be heard by a judge for several years because deporting a child is a lower priority for the courts, Sandweg explained.
‘You could easily end up in a situation where the gap between a parent’s deportation and a child’s deportation is years,’ Sandweg said.”
According to NBC: “But already, immigration lawyers in the U.S. and Central America say many parent immigrants who have been deported are having a hard time locating their children. The Trump administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy was announced in April.
Parents are given a paper slip written in English and Spanish that explains they have been charged with a crime for entering the United States illegally and will be separated from their child while they await their court hearing.
“For assistance in locating your child(ren), you may contact the Office of Refugee Resettlement,” the slip says, giving a 1-800 number.” (Emphasis added.)
Regarding compliance with Judge Sabraw’s order, the Washington Post reported on July 12, 2018, that the Trump administration not only had revised its estimates of the number of children who had been separated but acknowledged its problems complying with the court order: “The Trump administration has released more than half of the youngest children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said, but continues to hold the rest as a court deadline to reunite a much larger group of older children approaches …
“A report filed with the court late Thursday showed 58 children were reunified across the country, some late at night and across great distances. Children or parents were scattered nationwide, including in Maryland, Texas, New York, Georgia, Louisiana, Arizona and Illinois.
“The government has said there are ‘under 3,000’ such children. Officials say they will provide a list of their names by Friday to the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the class-action lawsuit that led to the judge’s ruling last month … ACLU lawyers said the government did not reunite all children with their parents by Tuesday and asked the judge to impose ‘remedies,’ including more information sharing and strict deadlines. Lawyers also asked the judge to order the government to reimburse families for travel costs and to create a fund to pay for counseling for the children.” (Emphasis added.)
On July 12, 2018,the Washington Post provided a look at how the reunification process was affecting both parents and children: “In their relief, they recounted moments of desperation.For three migrant fathers reunited with their children Tuesday, the joy of seeing their 3- and 4-year-olds — separated for weeks and sometimes months following President Trump’s “zero tolerance” border policy at the border — was punctured by the pain of having had them ripped away.
“‘It’s something I would never wish on any father, any mother,’ Bartolome Martinez said in Spanish at a restaurant in Phoenix, holding Jonathan, 4, on his lap. ‘God doesn’t give you the strength to see a child go off to something uncertain, where you don’t know what’s going to happen, who will take care of him, who will receive him.’
“Martinez, of Honduras, had last seen his son in a West Texas detention facility in May. Jonathan is one of the 103 children 4 and younger taken from their parents as part of the Trump administration’s effort to criminally prosecute all parents who cross the border illegally, including those who then request asylum …
“After Jonathan was taken to a shelter in Arizona, his father suffered an emotional breakdown of sorts. At the restaurant Tuesday, he recalled becoming so distressed that he yelled out to officers in the detention facility for assistance … ‘I didn’t know If I should cry, if I should scream, whether I should stand up or sit down,’ he said. ‘I felt like I was to blame for bringing the boy.’
As Martinez recounted the story Tuesday, Jonathan sat wide-eyed in his father’s lap. He giggled, holding crayons up to his face as if they were a multicolored moustache.”
The Post shared another heartbreaking story: “At the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Chicago, a Guatemalan man who asked to be identified only by his first name, Juan, was reunited with his 3-year-old daughter, Gricelda, who had been transported there to meet him. ‘Seeing the look on her face when she saw her dad walk out, I didn’t really think she understood why she was there until she saw him,’ Gianna Borroto, their lawyer, said.
“As the pair was driven to Borroto’s office downtown, Gricelda held on tightly to her dad and a teddy bear. Inside the office, they shared chicken nuggets from McDonald’s, read an “I Spy” book and rolled a toy car in between the cubicles. The pair hadn’t seen each other since May 19, when they crossed into the United States at San Luis, Ariz., and were stopped by border officers. Gricelda’s mother stayed behind in Guatemala.
“Officers told Juan, 23, that they would be taking Gricelda to bathe and he would see her again in a few minutes. That never happened, he said Tuesday. Instead, Gricelda was transported to an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter in the Chicago area, Borroto said, as Juan was moved from one detention facility to another across at least three states. ‘Every day I would ask, “Where is my girl? I want to see my girl and she wants to be with her family,” Juan said. ‘So little, and she doesn’t know anything.’
“He said ICE officers refused to tell him anything about his daughter, who primarily speaks K’iche, an indigenous Mayan dialect. At the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, none of the officers spoke in Spanish, Borroto said. At another facility, she added, officers told Juan he should return to Guatemala without his daughter.
“When Borroto and other lawyers met with Gricelda, the 3-year-old had to stick her ear to a phone to have their questions translated from a remote interpreter. Borroto said that the father and daughter will soon head to Texas to join family there.”
On July 10, 2018, the New York Times reported that some of the separated children no longer recognized their parents: “One mother had waited four months to wrap her arms around her little boy. Another had waited three months to see her little girl again. When the reunions finally happened Tuesday in Phoenix, the mothers were met with cries of rejection from their children.
‘He didn’t recognize me,’ said Mirce Alba Lopez, 31, of her 3-year-old son, Ederson, her eyes welling up with tears. ‘My joy turned temporarily to sadness.’
“For Milka Pablo, 35, it was no different. Her 3-year-old daughter, Darly, screamed and tried to wiggle free from her mother’s embrace. ‘I want Miss. I want Miss,’ Darly cried, calling for the social worker at the shelter where she had been living since mother and daughter were separated by federal agents at the southwestern border.
“The tearful reunions — ordered by a court in California — came as the government said that it would release hundreds of migrant families wearing ankle bracelet monitors into the United States, effectively returning to the ‘catch and release’ policy that President Trump promised to eliminate.”
I’ve offered these reports because I think it’s worth taking some time to experience the human costs of zero tolerance. The issues of immigration are complex. The issues of asylum are complicated. Clearly these issues have been politicized. Women and children fleeing violence from gangs like MS-13 have been accused of being members of MS-13. In their zeal, public officials have violated our laws by preventing legitimate asylum seekers from entering the United States even though our immigration laws require them to do exactly that if they are to make a legitimate claim for asylum.
The legal system along our southern border is obviously overburdened. By not adding additional judges and by not providing additional legal services to migrant families, we do a great disservice to all.
Recently, our attention has been split by the plight of the Thai boys trapped in the cave, and the bizarre behavior of President Trump in Brussels, the United Kingdom and Helsinki. And yet there are thousands of parents and children trapped in a kind of hell, waiting to find each other.
I’ll end where I began: “Kids as young as 1 in US court, awaiting reunion with family.” And this from the New York Times’ portrait of reunification: “As Ms. Lopez and Ms. Pablo waited at a Greyhound station to board eastbound buses, their children called each other sister and brother. They were yet to utter the word “mami,” Spanish for mother, to the women cuddling, stroking and feeding them. But they were calmer, the mothers said.”
“Kids as young as 1 in US court, awaiting reunion with family”
Astrid Galvan, July 8, 2018, Associated Press
“How Can a Three Year Old Represent Himself in Court?”
American Immigration Council Legal Staff, Oct. 22, 2014
“Can a 3-year old represent herself in immigration court? This judge thinks so.”
Jerry Markon, March 5, 2016, Washington Post
“Zero Tolerance Immigration Prosecutions – Family Fact Sheet”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
“The Heartbreaking Case Of The 3-Year-Old Boy In Immigration Court”
Amber Jamieson, June 21, 2018, BuzzFeed
“Judge insists timeline be met to reunite children at border”
Elliot Spagat, Julie Watson, July 7, 2018, Associated Press
“Trump’s Brexit Blast”
Tom Newton Dunn, the Sun, United Kingdom
“Transcript: Donald Trump -Theresa May press conference”
Politico, July 13, 2018
“Obtaining Asylum in the United States”
“Sessions vows to prosecute all illegal border crossers and separate children from their parents”
Sari Horwitz and Maria Sacchetti, May 7, 2018, Washington Post,
“Federal agency says it lost track of 1,475 migrant children”
Garance Burke, April 27, 2018, Associated Press
“Federal officials lose track of nearly 1,500 migrant children in US”
John Bowden, April 27, 2018, the Hill
“Immigrant toddlers ordered to appear in court alone” Christina Jewett, Shefali Luthra, June 27, 2018, Kaiser Health News
“Former ICE Director: Some migrant family separations are permanent”
Julia Ainsley, June 19, 2018
‘Daddy, when are you coming to get me?’
Teo Armus, July 12, 2018, Washington Post,
“As Migrant Families Are Reunited, Some Children Don’t Recognize Their Mothers”
Miriam Jordan, Katie Benner, Ron Nixon and Caitlin Dickerson, July 10, 2018, New York Times