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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

Hope in Mexican Border Towns, Migrants Wait In Hope Of Rescue

Many migrants have been exposed to violence, said Gordon Finkbeiner of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, from “organized crime groups that are along the route.

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Migrants from Venezuela, Cuba and Guatemala wait at bridge between Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas for immigration officials to allow them to turn themselves in and ask for asylum in U.S., Nov. 12, 2018. VOA

Migrants have arrived in Tijuana and other border cities in caravans of thousands, while others come in small groups of a dozen or so. They have often walked for days through Central America, then ridden buses or gotten rides on trucks through the vast expanses of Mexico. In border cities like Tijuana, they find help in shelters run by charities.

Asylum seeker Angela Escalante is here with her husband and 7-year-old son.

“The situation is very bad, there are no jobs,” she said of her country of Nicaragua, blaming political violence there on President Daniel Ortega. “There’s no security so you can’t safely walk the streets,” she added.

Central American migrants settle in a shelter at the Jesus Martinez stadium in Mexico City, in Mexico City, Jan. 28, 2019.
Central American migrants settle in a shelter at the Jesus Martinez stadium in Mexico City, in Mexico City, Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

Post-traumatic stress

New arrivals say they also face violence from cartels and local drug gangs.

“It was around 14 years ago they killed the brother of my grandfather and a son of my grandfather, and because of this, they are still pursuing us,” said Jorge Alejandro Valencia, 19, from Michoacan state on Mexico’s western coast. He said the criminals later killed his grandfather, and they now are threatening his sister.

Migrants
Survey of Migrants From Mexico. VOA

Many migrants have been exposed to violence, said Gordon Finkbeiner of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, from “organized crime groups that are along the route. What we see and what we attend to is mostly situations of high levels of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder.”

A 23-year-old Honduran, newly arrived in a shelter, said a gang demanded he sell drugs, and he could see no escape except to leave his country. He asked not be identified, saying that the gangs monitor Facebook and if his identity is revealed, the gang would target his family.

US citizens wait, too

Africans and Haitians, who relocated from their countries to Venezuela, and Central Americans from Central America’s northern triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, all wait in the city’s shelters. Every case is different, and many are complicated.

A woman from Honduras has a 12-year-old son with U.S. citizenship and displays his passport. The boy, named Jimmy, was born in the United States but returned to Honduras with his mother when she was deported.

A middle-aged man named Efren Galindo was born in Mexico and grew up in Texas. Two years ago, he was deported and nearly killed by Mexican drug cartels, he explained as he displayed scars on his back and shoulder.

“I’ve been 46 years, [nearly] my whole life over there,” Galindo said, pointing northward to the United States. “I’m married to an American citizen. I have four American sons, an American daughter and 16 grand babies,” he added.

Credible fear, big backlog

To be granted asylum, petitioners must demonstrate a credible fear of persecution or torture, and show that they are not only fleeing poverty. Those who have been deported from the United States face added restrictions. Many having been barred from returning for five, 10, 20 years or more.

The U.S. immigration system, meanwhile, is overwhelmed, with a backlog worsened by the recent 35 day partial shutdown of the U.S. government in a dispute between Democrats in Congress and U.S. President Donald Trump over a border wall. U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services said in a statement Jan. 21 that it faced “a crisis-level backlog of 311,000” asylum cases that had yet to be interviewed for credible fear.

The backlog of all immigration court cases was more than 800,000 in November, according researchers at Syracuse University.

Many detention facilities that house illegal entrants are temporary, according to Border Patrol Agent Tekae Michael on the border south of San Diego.

“I know ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is completely overrun,” she said. “We don’t have enough immigration judges to be able to process efficiently and effectively and swiftly.”

Mexico is granting temporary papers to Central Americans, and volunteers from U.S.-based groups like San Diego’s Border Angels bring supplies to the shelters. Mexican businesses are making donations.

Also Read: Mexico to Relocate 120 Central American Migrants

Carlos Yee of the Catholic shelter Casa del Migrante says aid workers like him feel frustrated.

“We don’t have the power to work through this enormous bureaucracy. We only can say to them, be patient,” he said.

The city of San Diego is visible through a border fence, just 30 kilometers north of here, but these migrants in Tijuana face many more hurdles on their journey. Yet, they are still hopeful. (VOA)