Nuestra Comunidad: Children, parents separated at border rising

It is nearly 3 p.m. and in the small room inside Casa Anunciación, several immigrant mothers converse while watching their children play. One of them is from Honduras and the other, possibly from Guatemala. The youngest child there is around 10 months old. He can hardly stand up by himself, and he is constantly reaching for his mother. This may be one of the last times this scene plays out, however, as there is a high chance that no more children will be arriving. It is possible they will be immediately separated from their mothers when crossing the border.

The recent announcement of a “zero-tolerance” policy toward people who enter the United States illegally may cause families to be separated while the parents await prosecution, according to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Hundreds of children would be taken away from their parents and placed in detention centers, in the case of those who cross the border seeking asylum or for those who cross illegally and await a deportation process. Age will not matter.

The new policy has caused outrage among human rights organizations throughout the country. Even medical institutions, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, have spoken out against the measure, which was announced by Sessions earlier this month.

Pro immigrant organizations in particular are being affected, including Casa Anunciación, located in El Paso, Texas. For nearly four decades, the organization has provided refuge to families who cross the border without being stopped by Border Patrol.

“But we also give refuge to families who crossed seeking asylum and were stopped by immigration officials, and, due to lack of space in the detention center, they let people go under process of deportation, and they allow them to go where they have family. Then they transfer the cases to those jurisdictions,” explained Rubén García, Director of Casa Anunciación, in an interview with MundoHispánico.

According to García, it is a harsh reality for the center, as they house close to 300 immigrant families per week, between their three buildings.

“We’ve seen the separation of adult family members. I’ll give you an example: you’re from Honduras, you come here with your husband and 19-year-old daughter and two small children. You present yourselves and request asylum. It’s almost certain they will take your husband and lock him away in a detention center for men. And they will take your 19-year-old daughter and put her in one for women. You, because they don’t have anywhere for your children, they send you here. When you get here, you’re extremely upset about your 19-year-old daughter. ‘What did they do with my daughter? They didn’t tell me where they took her. Did they deport her? Is she here? Where is she?’ They don’t tell you anything. So, you arrive here (to Casa Anunciación) crying… it’s really difficult. We’ve seen it for years,” explained García.

According to García, the number of immigrants arriving weekly has reached almost 1,000, with the migration of Central Americans contributing to this rise.

“We’re talking about a migration flow that is closely tied to the reality of countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. That reality speaks to a level of lack of safety, a level of violence, of severe poverty that leaves people with no choice but to flee. And much of what is at the core of this migration is the concern families have for their sons and daughters,” reiterated García, as he explained the cases he sees every day at his organization.

For García, whose team comprises at least 150 people, that scenario is being played out all along the border, thousands and thousands of times over.

Up until several weeks ago, border agents attempted to keep families together by sending all family members to the same detention centers. When this policy is implemented, parents will be criminally prosecuted, and their children will be sent to different facilities.

People who illegally cross the border will not immediately be deported, as occurred previously, for example, with Mexican immigrants. Now, people who are detained at the border after entering illegally will be arrested and prosecuted, in accordance with the new Trump administration policy.

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