Many of the families coming here are running from incredible violence and persecution to seek asylum and a better life for their families. Seeking asylum is not illegal, but these parents are being treated like criminals.
This Spring the administration’s policy of tearing children from their parents and placing them in warehouses and cages or sending them thousands of miles away to foster homes or juvenile detention centers while their parents were locked up awaiting deportation hearings, sparked national outrage and the courts ordered that all children separated from their parents be reunited. A task the Trump administration still hasn’t completed, over 400 children are waiting to be returned to their parents, some of whom were deported without their children.
Meanwhile, the number of immigrant children – from babies to teens – now in ORR custody has swollen to nearly 13,000. They are being held in tent cities and warehouses, and locked up in juvenile detention centers (one of the three secure detention centers for unaccompanied minors nationwide is here in the Commonwealth).
LAJC is fighting to get the children held by ORR released and reunited with their families, and to support these families and our entire immigrant community as they struggle through these horrors.
Legal Action: Attorneys from LAJC staff and Board spent a week at the border this summer providing legal advice and orientation to over 200 detained parents, many of whom were heading to Virginia before they were detained and separated at the border. Listen to the press conference they gave upon their return here: https://bit.ly/2Mp7V6E. LAJC took on the representation of five families, securing their release and reunification.
We discovered that many of the detained parents were forced to make their case for asylum without a lawyer and while debilitated by the trauma caused from having their children forcibly torn from their arms. Along with Muslim Advocates we brought a lawsuit, Dora v Sessions, against the Trump Administration for wrongfully depriving the plaintiffs of their right to apply for asylum by forcing them through “credible fear interviews,” while they were traumatized and incapable of participating in those interviews. An agreement reached on September 12th will ensure that their asylum claims are reheard by federal officials giving them a real chance to secure safety and stability for themselves and their families.
The government is also ripping Virginian families apart with the wanton transfer of immigrant parents in ICE detention to locations across the country, without giving any consideration to the needs of their US Citizen children. When a parent is detained it is traumatic and destabilizing to the entire family, but at least if that parent remains local their children can still visit them. Our lawsuit challenging this practice is making its way through the courts and just received powerful amicus briefs on the deleterious effect this practice has on children.
On the back-end of the family separation crisis are the children who are languishing in ORR detention despite having family ready and willing to care for them. We have won a precedent setting case establishing that children in the custody of ORR have a right to family unity. That case reunited a son, who had been held by ORR for a year and a half, with his mother. And we recently secured the release of a boy who had been in ORR’s “care” in a juvenile detention center in Alexandria to his uncle, who had been frantically trying to get him out for 9 months.
The length of time children remain in ORR care has increased exponentially in the last few months as ORR has created new hurdles for their release. Policy, implemented this Spring, requires that a parent or relative who wants to sign their child out of ORR custody must provide their own fingerprints and the fingerprints of every single person living in the household. ORR is very clear that these fingerprints will be shared with ICE explicitly for the purpose of carrying out immigration enforcement. As a result, not just undocumented parents, but parents living with undocumented family members, are being prevented from reunifying with their children. These families face the choice of reuniting with one family member only by putting others at risk. Our class action suit challenges the legality of this policy on several grounds.
Political Will: We are lobbying politicians to change these policies. As well as rallying against the government organizations implementing them and the private contractors profiting from them. As the government attempts to pivot to indefinite family detention we envision the need for greater activism around these issues, and will keep you update here and on social media.
Community Support: Please consider hosting a house party to raise awareness and money to help battle family separation, and sign petitions and postcards to send to our elected officials. Contact Contessa for more information and support planning your party.
Our immigrant communities are living in fear, let them know that you see them as people worthy of dignity. Especially now, when it seems that a new atrocity is inflicted on the vulnerable – and by extension on all of us – your support is critical.