You Marched: What's Next?
Over the last year and a half we have seen this Administration create and implement cruel and relentless policies in pursuit of their vehemently anti-immigrant agenda--the latest installment being the forcible separation of thousands of children from their parents. Under immense public criticism, President Trump reversed course with the executive order ending family separation, but the order provided no plan for the reunification of families, continued the inhumane practice of family imprisonment, and did not end the zero tolerance enforcement policy which created the crisis to begin with.
Last week, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets nationwide to stand up and speak out against these shameful policies and to demand action to stop them. At the march last Thursday in Washington, DC, there was a t-shirt that read, “Breastfeeding babies belong with their mothers.” The fact that this needs to be on a shirt at all shatters the heart.
Action begets action. If you marched this past weekend, or supported those who did, we must keep up the momentum. With members of Congress being home for the Independence Day break and then next month in August, we can use the opportunity to tell them there is something they can do to protect immigrants and their families:
- End Family Imprisonment: Placing vulnerable families in remote facilities is inhumane and wastes taxpayer dollars. Families should not be detained for purposes of deterrence, especially as this undermines our obligations to those fleeing violence and persecution, ie, asylum seekers, under the law. Congress should act to end the zero tolerance enforcement policy, family imprisonment, and oppose funding for family detention expansion.
- Expand the use of humane alternatives to family separation and family incarceration. For example, families may be released under an order of supervision or through alternatives to detention programs like the Family Case Management Program, which the Administration ended in 2017. These community-based programs are extremely successful , more humane, and less costly than family detention.
- Ensure Access to Legal Help: Congress should continue to ensure there are sufficient resources for legal orientation programs for detained immigrants which provides essential know your rights information and options for immigration relief, especially given there were prior threats these programs them earlier this year. Legislation like the Fair Day in Court For Kids Act would require appointed counsel to unaccompanied children as well as other vulnerable individuals.
- Protect Access to Protections for Central American Asylum Seekers. It was reported over the weekend that Department of Justice is seeking to severely limit the ability of those who have been prosecuted for illegal entry to seek asylum. Congress must protect access to asylum protections for those fleeing persecution. One such program, the Central American Minors Refugee Program, provided an opportunity for children escaping violence in the Northern Triangle countries to seek protection and reunite with family in the United States. President Trump cancelled this program in November of 2017, and its termination has since been challenged in a class action lawsuit in California. Congress can take action to re-establish this important protection for children as well as protect access to asylum for those swept up in the zero-tolerance enforcement actions.
- Support the “Central America Family Protection and Reunification Act”: This bill introduced in the House on June 22, 2018 will require the Department of State to help facilitate family reunification require reporting on gender-based and gang-related violence in the Northern Triangle countries. The bill would also create an office within the State Department to investigate crimes committed against those who have been deported from the United States, and require studies into the long-term impact of family separation on the health of the families affected. For more information see here.
All of what is listed above is part of the larger effort to dismantle the political wall this Administration is building to harm immigrants and their families. As we approach Independence Day, we should continue our efforts to educate and persuade decision makers that we will not accept an Administration that divides us, and we support humane immigration policies that support the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
*Yein Pyo from the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-based Violence contributed to this article.