According to the nonprofit, “Freedom for Immigrants,” 45,000 children and adults languish in immigrant jails and prisons. Few have access to a court-appointed attorney, a telephone call, or a speedy trial. Two thirds of people in US immigration detention are in private prisons and the rest are locked up in county and city jails.
Many of those detained are subjected to medical neglect, sexual and physical assault and other forms of human rights abuses. As the number of families trying to cross the border has increased, so have the reports of illness and death. In early July, a Guatemalan woman suffered a miscarriage while in the custody of the Customs and Border Patrol.
A July 2nd report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General described squalid conditions at border detention centers, specifically “standing-room-only cells, children without showers and hot meals and detainees desperate for release.” According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Despite the explosive growth in immigration detention in recent years, there are no regulations or enforceable standards regarding detention conditions, including medical treatment, mental health care, religious services, transfers, and access to telephones, free legal services, and library materials. In fact, the vast majority of detainees never receive legal representation, which makes it more difficult not only to succeed in adversarial immigration proceedings, but also to complain about substandard treatment.
Today, Freedom for Immigrants launched an Emergency Rapid Response Support Fund. The first $2500 of the fund will go directly to those responding to the current detention expansion in Louisiana, where at least four new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prisons have popped up in rural communities in the state since 2018. All are run by for-profit private prison companies.
DESPERATE CHILDREN AS PAWNS
Despite a June court order that all children be reunited with their parents by the end of July, hundreds of families remain separated. Several immigrant children have died in US custody and alarming videos of detained children being physically abused have been aired on national news shows.
In October, troops were sent to the southern border to make a show of force and tear gas is being used on mothers and children fleeing violence, under the pretense that there is a “correct” way to seek asylum. In November, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to resume accepting asylum claims from migrants no matter where they enter the US.
IT IS LEGAL TO SEEK ASYLUM ANYWHERE
It is perfectly legal to come to the United States without papers and request asylum. Federal law says that anyone who comes to the US without legal status, and claims a fear of persecution, has the right to an interview to determine whether or not their fear is credible. If they pass the interview, they have the right to formally seek asylum. International law prohibits the US government from turning away people with legitimate humanitarian claims or from sending them back to their home countries.
An asylum seeker without papers can approach the US at an official point of entry and present herself to agents of the Custom and Border Patrol’s Office of Field Operations or she can cross into the US between ports of entry and present herself to a US Border Patrol agent. If she enters anywhere else but a port of entry, her asylum claim is still legal, but she has crossed the border illegally.
As 2020 candidate, Julian Castro, brought to our attention during the June presidential debates, it is only because of Title 8, Section 1325 of the United States Code that crossing the border is illegal. Section 1325 makes it a misdemeanor to enter the US without papers. Castro calls for the repeal of Section 1325, as does Elizabeth Warren and many other candidates.
FIND THE CHILDREN
The US Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) offers a National Call Center for parents or guardians trying to find out if their child is in HHS care. According to HHS, the organization has
“long provided resources for parents, including those in DHS custody, to communicate with their children in HHS care. Parents or guardians attempting to determine if their child is in HHS care should contact the ORR National Call Center (800-203-7001) or via email at information@ORRNCC.com. Personal information will be collected and sent to the HHS-funded facility where the minor is located. The ORR National Call Center has numerous resources available for children, parents, guardians, and sponsors.”
And, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) has the National Families Together Hotline (866-378-2667).
Here are some ways you can help:
VOLUNTEER WITH RAICES
RAICES provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children, families, and refugees in Texas. On July 10th, 2018 RAICES was in Washington DC, seeking to post bonds for families separated by the Trump Administration at the border. The organization called for all separated families to be reunited and demanded that the Trump administration accept their $20 million bond check to enable speedy release of the mothers of approximately 2500 children who had been separated from their children.
RAICES has locations in Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio, Texas. The organization offers the National Families Together Hotline (866-378-2667), which is staffed from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM; callers can leave messages 24 hours a day. Volunteers are trained to gather the information necessary to reunite families, including searching for a parent with all known variations of their names and other indicators. Once a parent is located, the volunteer will confirm where the parent is being detained and determine next steps, including referral to pro bono legal services and support with release from detention and reunification.
You can become part of the RAICES Accompaniment Network.
“By volunteering to accompany individuals to ICE check-ins, immigration, and other court hearings, you are showing solidarity and helping to ease the anxiety of interacting with the legal system, reducing the likelihood of detention with your presence, and keeping relatives or lawyers informed in case the person with you is detained. This will be a huge help to efforts to find ways to stop the actual deportation.”
You can become a Karnes Pro Bono Project Volunteer and help detained women and children receive the help they need. You can request a Know Your Rights workshop to be held in your community. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities. If you’re looking for a job, you can apply for one of the 13 positions RAICES is now hiring for.
HELP THE WOMEN’S REFUGEE COMMISSION
The Women’s Refugee Commission lists Five Actions You Can Take to Help End Family Separation and Support:
- Know the Facts
- Donate Money or Supplies
- Contact your US Senators and Representatives
- Spread the Word
- Volunteer with Local Organizations
- Visit people in immigration detention and provide civilian oversight.
- Answer Hotline Calls
- Become a Pen-Pal
- Serve as a host family for a few days, weeks, or months to people eligible for release.
- Drive people impacted by immigration detention where they need to go.
- Help with fundraising and friend raising.
- Advocate for policy change.
CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVES
Of course, contact your elected local, state, and national representatives and let them know how you feel. You can find out how to reach them at USA.gov.
RAISE AWARENESS AND ORGANIZE
You can help to raise awareness by sharing information with others, writing letters to your local paper, and posting and responding to others online. At Families Belong Together, a coalition of social justice organizations, you can find out about current community events or how to host your own, as well as sign a petition or donate.
HELP AN ORGANIZATION
Annunciation House has been accompanying the migrant, homeless and economically vulnerable peoples of the border since 1978. It is one of four shelters that will be providing hospitality to reunited families that were detained and separated by ICE in the last few months. It expects to receive 1000 families in the next week or two and urgently needs support to help provide meals, clothing, transportation and housing costs for these guests. Financial donations are the most helpful as they allow Annunciation House to purchase exactly what they need.
Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley (CCRGV) has assisted over 23,000 individuals since 2005. With centers in San Juan and Brownsville, Texas, CCRGV offers a humanitarian respite center, an emergency assistance program, a disaster response program, counseling services, pregnancy center and counseling, and a summer food program. They need donations.
In 2015 the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the American Immigration Council, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, collectively known as CARA, joined forces in response to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) significant expansion of its family detention capacity. Their Dilley Pro Bono Project (DPBP) needs attorneys, law students and paralegals with interest and experience in asylum work. Spanish speakers are preferred. If you don’t speak Spanish, consider collaborating with an interpreter. Non-immigration attorneys who speak Spanish are actively being recruited. Other individuals are needed on the ground, too. Social workers, psychologists, forensic anthropologists and individuals with strong research skills are needed. Compassion, endurance, resilience, flexibility, and commitment to ending incarceration of children are required for every volunteer.
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) provides pro bono legal representation for unaccompanied immigrants and represents children in their deportation proceedings. Over 50% of unaccompanied children have no one to represent them in immigration court. KIND partners with major law firms, corporations, law schools and bar associations to create a nationwide pro bono network. Volunteers don’t have to have legal experience. Here are some ways you can get involved.
The Texas Civil Rights Project needs help in McAllen Texas to take declarations from families and to interview them. They are only looking for volunteers who speak Spanish, Mam, Q’eqchi’, or K’iche’ and have paralegal or legal assistant experience. You can also help by spreading the word and donating.
The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights trains Child Advocates who volunteer to spend time with and advocate on behalf of an individual unaccompanied immigrant child while he or she is subject to deportation proceedings. They welcome volunteers from all cultures, professions, races, ethnicities and social backgrounds. Advocates must be at least 21 years old. If you’re not able to volunteer yourself, the center also takes donations that go toward providing a child advocate for an immigrant child.
The National Immigration Legal Services Directory offers a search for immigration legal services providers by state, county, or detention facility. Only nonprofit organizations that provide free or low-cost immigration legal services are included in this directory.
FOSTER A CHILD
The Office of Refugee Resettlement requires that all people who want to foster one of the unaccompanied immigrant children be fully licensed by their state. If you are not already licensed, the agency recommends contacting organizations such as United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offers information on opening your home to a refugee youth. Here is their information on becoming a foster parent. Contact local Catholic Charities to learn about material and volunteer needs for local immigrant families
For almost 80 years, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services has been a champion of refugees and migrants from around the world. You can host an event, become a foster parent of a refugee child or get involved with detention visitation.
If you’re interested in donating to any of these organizations listed, you can easily find donate links on their sites. You can also go to ActBlu, where you can search for non-profits and donate to several at one time.
About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes peggyomara.com. I was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years and founded Mothering.com in 1995. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Home and A Quiet Place. I have conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please check out my email newsletter with free tips on parenting, activism, and healthy living.