Children at the Gates

To send donations to help with the refugee children coming into South Texas from Central America:
http://www.southtexasrefugees.org/local-partners/

To understand better why the children are coming, take time to read this report:
http://tinyurl.com/mnd37zs

SOUTHERN BORDER REFUGEE CRISIS: FACTS AND PROPOSALS
The Rio Grande Valley has long been a crossing point for immigrants. The newest wave of visitors, however, merits special concern–they are, by and large, children, and children who are running for their lives.

For that reason they are not simply immigrants–they did not make a considered, timely decision to immigrate. They are refugees–they are fleeing mortal danger.

This is a matter of fact that the Department of Homeland Security itself asserts (http://tinyurl.com/kdvbfvp).

Several of our partners offered these considerations:

We are concerned that matters are moving swiftly in a negative direction with regards to the refugee crisis on our Mexican border. Because matters have been changing so quickly, and there are different groups being treated differently, there is a lot of confusion as to who is being held where and under what conditions.

A key demand is temporary protected status for the refugees, attorney representation for all minors, and access to the “warehouses” where the children are being held.

Unaccompanied Minors:

The unaccompanied minors are in the legal custody of Department of Health and Human Services (Office of Refugee Resettlement).  Because they are minors, the government is not allowed to simply release them on the streets. They are therefore being warehoused at Border Patrol facilities until they can be sent to the larger DHHS/ORR sponsored shelters. The Border Patrol facilities are the hideously over crowed and under supplied locations we have been seeing the photographs: caged children lying on the floors and wrapped only in lightweight foil blankets. Presently, advocates are not allowed in to see them or bring food, clothing, blankets or other needs. Church and civic groups need to be allowed entry with reasonable supplies.

The children are normally only be held in the Border Patrol facilities for a short time, but because of the huge influx it is taking way too long to process them, so they suffer for days in really bad conditions. Once initially processed, they are sent to the ORR sponsored shelters, where conditions are much better. Those shelters try to reunite the kids with family members as possible. Otherwise they remain at the shelter or might be sent to foster care while their deportation hearings proceed. They are not entitled to lawyers (they can hire them or accept volunteers) and many do not have anyone to help or advise them. Obviously, a terrorized fourteen year is not easily going to chat with ICE officers or a Judge in an open curt room about the gangs in his or her homeland. They are refugees and they need help.

The biggest problem is that there are now far too many kids for the established shelters, so huge new ones are being hastily organized. This is bad news. There is a lawsuit going forward for  the 2006-2007 sexual and physical abuse of a dozen unaccompanied minors in one such shelter. Although Know Your Rights groups have managed to keep a close eye on these facilities in recent years, the larger new facilities present all of the conditions that led to abuse before: a very large institutional population, and hurriedly hired and trained care-takers, many of whom have only prison guard, military and boot camp experience. State regulations require a week or so of training, but this is nowhere near enough to prepare them for refugee/ child welfare services. Starting a huge facility at the Air Force base in San Antonio, for example, is a terrible idea.

In short, this combination of conditions can and will lead to abuse. The Know Your Rights, or VERA groups are terrific but no one else is allowed into the shelters as the number of minors soar.  Worse yet, like all child abuse victims, most of the minors will be threatened with deportation or worse by the perpetrators. We need to insist on far greater access rights for church and civic groups to enter, meet with the children one on one, help provide positive activities, and any other needed assistance. The less the access, the greater the risk of abuse.

Mothers with Children

The mothers and babies struggling across the border are also sent to the far over crowded Border Patrol facilities we are seeing in the photographs. If the women have a relative who can pre- pay the bus ticket, then ICE is letting many of them go, with a date to show up for their hearings. These women with their children are then dumped at the bus stations. Many are in very bad shape, both because of the terrible journey, and also because of the unfit food and unbearably cold conditions in the border shelters.

The Churches have jumped in and are doing wonderful work with the women and their children left at the bus stations

As soon the political backlash will shut down this release of mothers and children. Even those who have been released are still subject to deportation, and most have no idea of their rights.

OTHERS:

Others arriving with children not their own are not being released at all. Without lawyers, many will be sent back to the drug wars they are fleeing.  This raises some very serious international law questions. As illustrated by the case of Laura S. (para.9).

COMING BACKLASH:

The Obama administration and others speak  about sending everyone home…and using expedited procedures at the border to expel people more quickly. The procedures that can be used so far are very dangerous: if the person is caught within the 100 mile zone and has been in the US less that 14 days, the Border Patrol Agent can immediately send them back across into Mexico, UNLESS they claim that they are in danger. As noted above, virtually all refugees fleeing the drug war know better than to say anything at all about the cartels. People arriving from Honduras, Guatemala, Salvador or Mexico should be permitted to sit down with lawyers first and learn about the rights and protections available to them.

A tragic example of how expedited removal can go very wrong, is the case of Laura S., a young mother who was long battered by her former boyfriend, a Mexican drug cartel member. She finally filed charges against him in the Texas courts, and obtained protective orders. He returned to Mexico, enraged and making it clear he would kill her as soon as he got the chance. Border Patrol picked her up with three friends one evening and sent her back across to Mexico before dawn, with no hearing and no lawyer. She was not eligible for extradited removal, as she had lived in Texas for years, and there were many ways she could have obtained relief from an immigration Judge. She repeatedly told the officers she would be killed within the week if they deported her and begged and wept all the way to the bridge. She was found dead in a burning car days later.

The solution is to provide more protection for these refugees, not less.

Proposed Actions: So far there is a lot of support building for the following actions:

1. DEMAND TEMPORARY PROTECTED STATUS, or TPS for Honduras, Guatemalans, Mexicans (at least the most violent Mexican border- states), and Salvadorans. This is a clean, simple, and tested solution.  Although imperfect, it will serve as a “cease fire” while better solutions are worked through. It will also respond to the current demands to just send everyone back right now. We will be issuing draft petitions for the White House shortly, as well as letters to email urgently to all Senate offices. The more church and human rights organizations that can visit the White House and insist on this measure, the better.

TPS has been granted before to Haitians, Salvadorans and Nicaraguans. The cut- off date would begin as of the date President Obama signs the papers. It does not have to go through Congress. Everyone already here could stay and also work. However, the status temporary, so in a year or so the dangers in the home countries will be re- evaluated and people could be sent back then.

This is tried and true.  It will in fact save the government huge amounts of time and money by swiftly resolving people’s status, releasing them, and allowing them to work and support themselves, instead of being detained in government sponsored centers. It will greatly relieve the huge back up of cases in the immigration courts. It would also slow the surge if people understand there is a specific cut- off date.

2. All minors should be provided with an attorney.

3. Church, human rights and civic groups should be granted immediate access to Border Patrol ware-houses as well as ORR sponsored shelters. Reasonable provisions of food and blankets should be permitted at the BP centers.

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