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To date, most of our work with that issue of family separation has been working with the parents in the days when they are being separated: when they’re in the federal courthouse being convicted; partnering with the federal public defenders; and then in the adult detention center, as they have no idea how to communicate or speak to their children or get them back before being deported.TM: Can you take me through what you’ve been seeing?But, for the most part, the ones that I’ve been working with are the ones that are actually being prosecuted for criminal entry, which is a pretty new thing for our country—to take first-time asylum seekers who are here seeking safe refuge, to turn around and charge them with a criminal offense.Those parents are finding themselves in adult detention centers and in a process known as expedited removal, where many are being deported.And what happens to your child isn’t really our concern. We can’t process your case.” So the families go illegally on a raft—I don’t want to say illegally; they cross without a visa on a raft. There are organizations like Al Otro Lado that document border turn-backs. TM: What was happening on the bridge at that point? When I was in Mc Allen, the individuals that day who visited people on the bridge had been there four days. Of those, the children seemed to be all five and older.
And so we saw about six hundred children who were taken away from October to May, then we saw an explosion of the numbers in May. The Office of Refugee Resettlement taking in all these kids says that they are our children, that they are unaccompanied. ” they say, “We can’t tell you that.” Sometimes the officers will say, “because you’re going to be prosecuted” or “because you’re not welcome in this country” or “because we’re separating them,” without giving them a clear justification.And Health and Human Services has this complicated structure in place where they’re not viewed as a long-term foster care system—that’s for very limited numbers—but their general mandate is to safeguard these children in temporary shelters and then find family members with whom they can be placed.So they start with parents, and then they go to grandparents, and then they go to other immediate family members, and then they go to acquaintances, people who’ve known the children, and they’re in that system, but they can’t be released to their parents because their parents are behind bars.So they’re not able to convict everybody of illegal entry right now just because there aren’t enough judges on the border right now to hear the number of cases that come over, and then they say if you have religious persecution or political persecution or persecution on something that our asylum definition recognizes, you can fight that case behind bars at an immigration detention center. When I was last out in Mc Allen, people were stacked on the bridge, sleeping there for three, four, ten nights.And those cases take two, three, four, five, six months. They’ve now cleared those individuals from sleeping on the bridge, but there are hundreds of accounts of asylum seekers, when they go to the bridge, who are told, “I’m sorry, we’re full today. We talked to about 63 parents who had lost their children that day in the court.
But our administration is kind of ignoring this longstanding international and national jurisprudence of basic beliefs to make this distinction that, if you come to a bridge, we’re not going to prosecute you, but if you come over the river and then find immigration or are caught by immigration, we’re prosecuting you. AC: The zero-tolerance policy really started with Jeff Sessions’s announcement in May.