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Women in immigrant detention are recounting the last time they saw their children, which was weeks, oftentimes months ago. Accounts describe children sleeping five to a 40-square-foot room in these centers, their siblings of a different gender also states away. Some mothers say they were told their children were being taken for a bath, but were never returned. One woman says an immigration official took her daughter away while she was breastfeeding.
These are just some of the stories of families who have been separated, a number of them as a result of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ May announcement that the Trump administration was enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy toward people entering the U.S. without authorization. As part of this renewed dedication to prosecute all cases of unauthorized immigration, children are being taken from their parents, processed, and detained in contracted “shelters” across the U.S., while parents are detained for prosecution instead of released.
In another attack on immigrants, Sessions announced this week that adults coming to the U.S. who are either survivors of domestic violence or escaping gang violence will not be eligible to seek asylum in the U.S., turning the country’s back on some of our most vulnerable immigrant communities.
Critics have expressed outrage at these policies, sharing upsetting stories of parents saying they had no idea they were being separated, of overcrowded conditions in detention centers, and, in at least one case, a parent being overwhelmed with emotion and committing suicide after having his toddler and wife separated from him.
Whereas angered protesters rallied at airports after Trump’s first iteration of the Muslim-majority country travel ban, and internet users submitted public comments to the FCC supporting net neutrality, impeding the separation of families and holding the door open for vulnerable asylum-seeking immigrants feels far less actionable. So what can you do to pressure the Trump administration to reverse these immigration policies?
Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), told the Daily Dot that aside from attending nationwide rallies against these practices and policies, there are at least three things people can do to channel their disagreement into tangible change.
Call the Justice Department
Brooks said to call the Department of Justice and tell them what you think. By registering outrage over what the department is doing to immigrant families, you will let the department know that these anti-family and anti-immigrant practices are not what the U.S. is about. (The SPLC has also put out a call to action to their supporters asking for the same, including a sample script to help callers make their case.)
To voice your opinion regarding family separations and asylum for domestic abuse survivors, call the Department of Justice’s main comment line at 202-353-1555.
Contact your congresspeople
Brooks said people can also contact their Congress members and representatives, putting pressure on them to pay a personal visit to adult and child immigrant detention centers to see their conditions and speak to the people inside. You can find contact information for your congresspeople here.
“Maybe we can bring some sense of morality to bear once the Department of Justice realizes that the American people don’t want to be represented in this way,” Brooks said. “I think it’s incumbent upon our elected officials to monitor this and I feel confident that once people see it and see how people are being held in virtual cages, that will stop this immoral practice.”
Sanaa Abrar and Juan Manuel Guzman, advocacy and policy managers for United We Dream, the nation’s “largest immigrant youth-led community,” told the Daily Dot that constituents can also get verbal commitments from their Congress members to vote against the upcoming 2019 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill.
United We Dream is working with the Detention Watch Network and other immigration justice organizations for the Defund Hate campaign. The campaign aims to stop DHS funding that would go toward more beds in immigrant detention centers, the U.S.-Mexico border wall, more immigration agents, and other aspects of border security that contribute to family separations.
While the Senate bill is still going through the appropriations sub-committee, Abrar said constituents can encourage Democratic committee members to reject and even decrease funding for all deportation-related agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection. Abrar said the organization has been told that Senate and House votes on DHS funding may be coming as soon as July.
“This money fight is not separate from the tragedies we’ve been seeing in the news considering family separation, families torn apart, individuals being detained and sent thousands of miles away from their family, the increases in workplace raids—all of that is intrinsically tied to Congress’ power of the purse,” Abrar said.
Volunteer with, or donate to, local coalitions
Guzman with United We Dream told the Daily Dot that while national attention is on reuniting families, it’s important to focus efforts on local organizations and coalitions that have been doing the work to provide legal aid prior to the media attention.
Families Belong Together is an effort launched by the ACLU of Texas; the Texas Civil Rights Project; RAICES Texas, the largest immigration legal services non-profit in Texas; and Neta, a Latinx-run progressive media platform based in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. In an effort-based guide, Families Belong Together says people who are in Brownsville, Texas—or can travel there—can volunteer in a variety of ways. The town is the location of Casa Padre, the largest immigrant child detention center in the nation.
Volunteers at Sacred Heart Church aid people released by Border Protection. Volunteers with Neta can help deliver food and water to people stuck at ports of entry waiting to seek asylum. ProBar, the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project from the American Bar Association, as well as the Texas Civil Rights Project, are looking for volunteer attorneys or people with legal assistance experience.
Donations can be made to these organizations to help fund supplies or human resources for these efforts. One Facebook fundraiser for RAICES has raised more than $2.2 million since its June 16 launch and is steadily growing. The funds will go toward RAICES’s effort to pay bond for parents in immigration detention centers, which ranges from $1,500 to thousands more per case, and getting children legal representation to help them present their cases to immigration judges.
These organizations are also hosting two upcoming rallies, a “Families Belong Together Rally” on June 28 in Brownsville, Texas, and a June 30 rally of the same name in Washington, D.C.
The Texas Tribune compiled a list of groups accepting donations to organize legal efforts for children and parents separated at the border, including Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, the CARA project, Kids in Need of Defense, and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.
Get religious leaders involved
Brooks said people who want to affect potential change can vocalize their opinions at their religious leaders and get them in action.
Leveraging Christianity for political gain explores a moral grey area, bringing into question which social causes religious institutions use scripture to support or denounce (where is the “pro-life” and pro-family reaction to police brutality?). Sessions, too, is wielding his own religious argument, having used a Bible passage to defend his zero-tolerance policy.
But Brooks’ suggestion is rooted in present-day evidence; in recent days, leaders of various religious organizations have made announcements in support of immigrant families.
On Wednesday, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced family separation and the end of asylum opportunities for gang violence and domestic violence survivors.
"Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together." pic.twitter.com/Vu9T4obMao— US Catholic Bishops (@USCCB) June 13, 2018
“We urge courts and policy makers to respect and enhance, not erode, the potential of our asylum system to preserve and protect the right to life,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo wrote in a statement. “I…[condemn] the continued use of family separation at the U.S./Mexico border…Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”
During the June 12-13 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, the convention passed a resolution that it wants immigration reform to include a clear pathway to citizenship and maintain “the priority of family unity.” The Evangelical Immigration Table, a group of Evangelical religious organizations including the National Association of Evangelicals and Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, has written to Trump asking to “resolve this situation of families being separated” by reversing the zero-tolerance policy, stating, “the state should separate families only in the rarest of instances.” Evangelist and staunch Trump supporter Franklin Graham has also called family separation “disgraceful.”
Tens of other Christian denomination leaders have also denounced family separation—though, to be clear, Jewish and Muslim leaders have led this conversation long before this recent wave. According to ABC News, more than two dozen of the largest religious groups in the U.S. have asked the Trump administration to revoke the zero-tolerance policy and stop separating families.
“We understand that our immigration system is broken, but this is certainly not the way to handle it,” Brooks said. “Think about the children affected by this.”
Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.