Southern Border Update-It Keeps Getting Worse

As MeBIC has written previously, a federal court ordered the U.S. government to reunite the more than 2600 children taken from their parents after entering the U.S. seeking asylum under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.  Following months of forced separation and anguish, most of the parents and children have now been reunited.  However, in September, over 400 children remain separated from their parents, including  304 of them whose parents were deported (with many of those parents agreeing to deportation because authorities  told them they would be reunited more quickly with their children if they did so).

Now, lawyers from the ACLU who represent those children have gone to Central America to try to find their parents, who face a wrenching choice – give permission for their children to apply for asylum which means staying in the U.S. without them, or have their children returned to their home countries where they can be reunited with their parents but will face the same dangers that compelled the families to try to find safety in the U.S. in the first place.

Paralleling this tragedy, the administration has issued proposed regulations that would undo the Flores settlement agreed to by the federal government in 1997.  It stipulated that immigrant juveniles should be housed in the least restrictive setting possible, and that any detention must not exceed 20 days and must be in a state-licensed, non-jail facilities.  Standards for care and education also needed to be met.  The proposed regulation would thwart the Flores settlement and allow for indefinite detention of juveniles in unlicensed facilities.

We have a preview of what this new landscape would look like, as the administration grapples with over 13,000 minors now in its custody.   The administration is housing unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America who came alone or were taken from their parents under the new “zero tolerance” policy in hastily constructed tent camps and abandoned shopping centers.    In Texas, these makeshift shelters don’t meet state licensing requirements for childcare facilities, so the Texas Board of Education recently decided that state funding can’t be used to educate the children housed there.  This has resulted in local school districts refusing to provide any educational services at all and immigration authorities are not adequately filling that void. Moreover, there have been reports of harsh conditions and abuse in the federal detention centers.

Nonetheless, the administration has proceeded to expand some of these facilities, such as the “tent city” in Tornillo, Texas, and has been moving minors there from shelters in other states.   While the administration says the minors’ stays in these centers will be short term, because it has begun detaining undocumented relatives already living in the U.S. who step forward to foster them, those relatives are now afraid to come forward.

While there is no question that the federal immigration system needs an overhaul, the current administration has made the border situation a humanitarian disaster.  This is despite the fact that the number of people trying to enter the U.S. is similar to recent years, and far lower than the numbers apprehended in FY 2014 or seeking entry in FY 2016.

The administration’s solutions betray the nation’s values, and will cause irreversible damage to children and families who came to the U.S. believing that we were a beacon of safety, human rights, democracy, and opportunity.   That reputation is being shattered, despite the economic reality that we need immigrants as much as we ever have.

Comments are due by 11/6/2018 on the proposed regulations that would gut the Flores settlement.  Please contact MeBIC if your Maine business wants more information about submitting a comment.