Tuesday January 22, 2019
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U.S.A: Family Separation Trauma, Some Are Overcoming And Some Are losing

Separating families is part of the Trump’s administration Zero Tolerance policy

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Immigrants seeking legal entry into the United States in McAllen, Texas.
Immigrants seeking legal entry into the United States in McAllen, Texas. VOA

The moment Lucia’s children asked her for food and she did not have anything to give them, and no way to get it, was the last straw. Lucia decided to take on the journey to the United States.

“That was the hardest moment for me,” she told reporters on Tuesday after arriving at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas.

Lucia is not her real name and though she wanted to tell her story, she still did not feel comfortable sharing her identity. Sitting next to the 21-year-old Guatemalan woman were her 3-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy. They had just been released from the McAllen Border Patrol Processing Center and were among of the group advocates are calling “the lucky ones.”

Separation anxiety 

Lucia told VOA that people in Central America understand how difficult the journey to the U.S. border is, but they are not expecting children being separated.

“I’ve had not heard about this and I believe it is unfair. Like I told [CBP officers] ‘if you’re going to separate me from my children, please deport me and don’t take my children away from me,’” she told VOA.

Separating families is part of the Trump’s administration Zero Tolerance policy under which those detained entering the United States illegally are being criminally charged, a policy that leads to children being separated from their parents because under U.S. law children cannot stay with a parent facing criminal charges.

Art Arthur with the hardline-on-immigration Center for Immigration Studies says the policy has a strategic aim: “It is a deterrent. The only way that we’ll really know whether it works is when we see the numbers for June, July and August.”

A mother seeking entry into the United States with her children in McAllen, Texas.
A mother seeking entry into the United States with her children in McAllen, Texas. VOA

Yellow envelopes

Lucia was not expecting that her children might be taken away from her. She was also not expecting to see some of the things she saw inside the detention center.

“There was a woman that she would wake us up to count us. Since it was so cold inside and some children were able to sleep, some mothers would get up and didn’t want to wake up the children,” Lucia said.

“So, the officer kept saying, ‘Wake your children’ and when the mothers did not do it, the officer would come and grab the children and said ‘Wake up and go with your mothers,’” the Guatemalan woman said.

However, she landed at the humanitarian center where immigrants can rest, take a shower, check email, and receive instructions on what to do next. They can also get in touch with family members and arrange to buy bus tickets and travel to their final destination in the United States.

People at the community center on Tuesday carried big yellow envelopes. Inside? Papers that indicate they have an appointment with immigration. The papers explain that once they attend this appointment, they will receive their court date and receive instructions on what to do until next time inside the immigration court.

At the first appointment with the immigration judge, they will be asked why they came to the United States illegally and if they have a credible fear of going back.

When people come to the U.S. seeking protection, they are permitted to file for asylum regardless of their immigration status. U.S. law offers asylum to those people facing persecution in their home countries on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular group.

Others are hoping to ask for temporary protection.

Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director at the Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley.
Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director at the Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley. VOA

‘Lucky ones’

Fifty to 100 people arrive at the center almost every day. Lucia and the other families were released because of a discretionary decision among the Border Patrol, often because of the sheer volume of people being held at detention centers.

The discretionary enforcement decision allows Customs and Border Protection field supervisors to decide who they will stop, question, and arrest – and who they will release.

The ones at the center were released, not separated from their children, and given a chance to prove their credible fear case in an immigration court.

“This is a children’s crisis,” Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director at the Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley and one of the leaders inside the Humanitarian Respite Center, told VOA.

“They’re not criminals. No criminals. They’re children. They’re human beings. They’re families,” Pimentel said.

Migrants seeking to enter the United States.
Migrants seeking to enter the United States. VOA

Legal basis 

There is no law requiring the separation of immigrant families at the border, however, if people are caught crossing the U.S. border without authorization and between official ports of entry is a misdemeanor crime.

Charging someone under the federal criminal statute has been historically reserved for those who committed serious or heinous crimes or those with a vast criminal record.

“The previous administration was also very focused in deportation and also created a way to keep families from being released and put in family detention. This administration has focused more harshly in pushing back and send a deterrence message that really goes to the extreme,” Pimentel said.

And she doesn’t think the message is going to be heard.

“A mother that has a kid that is suffering, nothing will stop her from saving her son,” sister Pimentel said.

Pimentel’s Humanitarian Respite Center is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. has assisted thousands of people and the Catholic sister has no plans in stopping the work.

Also read: Caravan migrants confused over next move at Mexico-U.S. border

“Every people that I am able to [I hope to help],” she said. (VOA)

Next Story

U.S. Court Blocks Question On Citizenship For U.S. Census

The Census Bureau itself recommended against adding a citizenship question, estimating that at least 630,000 households would refuse to fill out the 2020 questionnaire if such a question were included.

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An envelope contains a 2018 census test letter mailed to a resident in Providence, R.I., March 23, 2018. VOA

A federal judge has blocked the Commerce Department from including a question about U.S. citizenship on the 2020 census.

To plaintiffs in the case — a sizable coalition of states, cities and advocates — the question seemed aimed at turning the official population survey into a tool to advance Trump administration policies by discouraging immigrants from participating.

In Tuesday’s ruling, which came after a two-week trial in New York, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said that the decision to add the citizenship question was made before data was collected to show that a change in policy was necessary.

In his 277-page ruling, Furman wrote that the decision was “pretextual” and thus violated a federal law called the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

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Migrants traveling with children walk up a hill to a waiting U.S. Border Patrol agent just inside San Ysidro, Calif., after climbing over the border wall from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 3, 2018. VOA

Furman said the APA requires federal agencies to study an issue before changing policies, and the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, “violated the public trust.”

Documented noncitizens

About 11 million people who live in the U.S. are undocumented, but there are also about 13 million documented noncitizens who might fear responding to the census questionnaire if citizenship is included.

“Hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of people will go uncounted in the census if the citizenship question is included,” Furman said.

The U.S. census is taken every 10 years and is next scheduled for 2020. It plays a critical role in U.S. politics since the apportionment of House of Representative seats is based on population figures derived from the census and also disbursement of millions in federal funds. In addition, decisions from the location of businesses to the makeup of state and local districts are based on the census.

Plaintiffs argued that noncitizens tend to live in places that disproportionately vote Democratic, so an undercount would likely shift political power and federal spending to Republican areas.

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Immigrants participate in a naturalization ceremony to become U.S. citizens in Los Angeles, Dec. 19, 2018. VOA

Furman’s ruling is only the opening salvo on the citizenship question. The Supreme Court has already agreed to hear an aspect of the case in February, hoping to rule before the Census Bureau has to print its questionnaire. In addition, the government is expected to quickly appeal Furman’s ruling.

Reasoned explanation

The U.S. government fought hard to keep the citizenship question out of court. When that failed, government lawyers argued that how Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross reached his decision on the citizenship question was “immaterial.”

“All the secretary is required to do is to provide a reasoned explanation,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brett A. Shumate told the court. “He doesn’t have to choose the best option.”

Ross has said that he decided to add citizenship to the census in response to a request from the Justice Department, which said that census data on citizenship would help it better enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

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Migrants wait in line for food at a camp housing hundreds of people who arrived at the U.S. border from Central America with the intention of applying for asylum in the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 12, 2018. VOA

Citizenship was on the questionnaire in censuses before 1960 and is still part of the American Community Survey, which samples about 2.6 percent of the population each year, in order to help local officials and businesses understand what is going on in their communities.

‘Forceful rebuke’

But last January, the Census Bureau itself recommended against adding a citizenship question, estimating that at least 630,000 households would refuse to fill out the 2020 questionnaire if such a question were included.

Also Read: International Immigrants May be Healthier Than Native: Study

“This victory in our case is a forceful rebuke of the administration’s attempts to weaponize the census to attack immigrants and communities of color,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement about the case.

Along with the ACLU, plaintiffs included 18 states, the District of Columbia, several cities and some immigrant rights groups. (VOA)