Once a year immigration attorneys from all over the country march to Washington, D.C. to meet with their elected officials and to encourage them to take action toward fixing this country’s broken immigration system. The event is organized by the American Immigration Lawyers Association and is appropriately called the National Day of Action. This year, one of the issues we put on the list of things to discuss is family detention. We were determined to make sure we urged all the suits on the hill to stop treating women and children like criminals.
As part of the National Day of Action, Dree Collopy and I were fortunate to receive a golden ticket as we were invited, along with other fellow Artesia Warriors, to a special White House Meeting with numerous officials from the White House and the Office of the Vice President.
At the meeting we shared the stories of the detained women and children we represented in Artesia directly to White House officials who have a unique opportunity to bring change to how the administration handles family detention. By providing psychological evaluations of women who had been detained in Artesia before winning their asylum claims, we were able to provide direct evidence to these officials that prolonged detention is harmful to women and children and results in further trauma. We were able to finally see the look of the faces of the folks involved in the decision making process as we told story after story of the horrific journey these women and children make in hopes of finding safety.
Presenting the stories of the continued trauma and victimization of these women and children that the Obama administration has decided to lock up brought a new perspective to White House officials, who previously had not had an opportunity to speak with attorneys directly involved in the representation of these women and children. Remarkably, many of these officials had never heard the human side of these stories, and were visibly shocked upon hearing the details of the trauma that women and children face in the detention setting.
We used the opportunity to ask the staff to end family detention and in the alternative, please allow the release of the women and children from detention once they are found to have a credible fear of returning to their country. The meeting went well. It was clear that we made an impact and the voices of these women and children were heard. We must continue to work to make sure the folks making the decisions on the Hill understand that there is not a humane way to detain families. Family detention must end.
Following our meeting there was discussion about meeting with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. For those of you who do not know who she is, she spear-headed what I like to call the “roast” of Sarah Saldaña, Director of ICE. The Director was forced to address family detention and conceded that women and children are not public safety issues, yet defended the practice of locking them up in detention facilities. That just simply is not logical in any sense of the word. Good thing the members of Congress posed the questions.
For our meeting with Congresswoman Lofgren, Dree and I were brought one of our BR clients to the meeting who is one of the few women who has been detained in all three new family detention facilities – Artesia, Karnes, and Dilley. The meeting also went well as the client was able to tell the story for the first time to government officials outside the detention facility. She was able to tell the people that have some role in the implementation of the beast of family detention how much she suffered and how much her six-year-old daughter suffered. She showed a tremendous amount of courage and I know her story will not be forgotten.
Unfortunately, it seems like family detention is this Administration’s way of showing that they are tough on border enforcement. With the DAPA and DACA battle happening in the Fifth Circuit, it does not seem likely that Obama will budge on family detention. It was suggested that if we want DAPA and extended DACA, then we will have to keep detaining families. That is politics. Family detention is not remotely related to DAPA and DACA, yet the politicians seem to think that ending family detention will make Obama look weak on enforcement especially considering his proposed “amnesty” policies like DAPA and DACA. I cannot make sense of it.
As the political battle ensues, there are a number of new people on the Hill who have now joined our efforts to end family detention. We will continue to advocate for these women and children and hopefully be able to open their eyes to the terrible stain this policy of detaining women and children will leave on this administration.
We will continue to share the voices of the victims of family detention. We will continue to fight for the release of women and children from detention. Hopefully President Obama will change course on this issue, so that when people look back on his legacy, they don’t see the faces of traumatized babies in jail.