July 24, 2018 at 7:39 pm PDT | by Tai Esteban Sunnanon
Combatting the ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Immigration Policy

Tai Sunnanon. (Photo courtesy Sunnanon)

May 6, 2018 was a normal Sunday for me. Until I turned on the news and heard about the White House’s “Zero-Tolerance” immigration policy—having children stripped from their parents’ arms, even those seeking asylum, as a deterrent for immigrants crossing the U.S. Southern borders illegally.

It was a crass and cruel political move with no plan, no thought given to how to reunite detained parents with children scattered to mini-jail-like facilities around the country. Border agents didn’t even put numbered wristbands on parents and children to match them up later.

For the next several weeks, I experienced dismay, frustration, anger and disappointment. The latter was the hardest. As the Founder and CEO of the Strategic Insights Group, a mission-driven, social justice consulting firm in Los Angeles, I simply knew that I had to act.

But how?

Let’s put President Trump and politics aside for one moment. Any rational person can agree that forcibly separating children from their parents is a bad idea. If we can agree on that premise, then we can agree that reuniting them in a safe, timely manner is our goal.

Now, let’s bring back Trump. Let me be crystal clear that Trump made this Executive Order to prosecute all illegal entries, vis-à-vis the separation of children from their parents. There is no law that mandates this practice. Let me also be clear that this practice occurred under Obama’s Administration, though not to the degree and magnitude that we see now. Since May 6, approximately 3,000 children have been taken from their parents along the Mexican border with the US, primarily in Texas. 103 of those children are under the age of 5.

Many of these families crossing the border are seeking asylum. They fled legitimate problems that we do not face in this country. Women are fleeing domestic violence in countries where wives are essentially seen as the property of their husbands. Mothers are fleeing gangs attempting to recruit their children, with dire or deadly consequences if they do not join. Fathers and young men cannot find work throughout Central America. LGBT persons are fleeing deadly persecution. They are all coming for the American Dream–because that’s what we sold the world on.

So, how did I get a handle on the crisis to help reunite families? 1. Learn the truth. 2. Provide tangible ways for other people to help.

Unfortunately, the July 26 federal court deadline to reunite all families was never realistic, despite the government having once told Congress that reunification would be as easy as pushing a computer button. The strategic insights group was in McAllen, Texas—focal town for family reunifications—from June 27 to July 2, seeking answers and a pathway forward. We encountered numerous problems:

Lack of attorneys and paralegals. Attorneys are needed for children and for parents. In some cases, there is 1 attorney for 20 families. That means that during court hearings, the attorney gets about 3-minutes per family.

Weak reunification system. The children who were forcibly taken from their parents were asked to provide their name and date of birth (DOB) at the detention center. If they were too young to know or provided the wrong DOB by mistake, the detention center cannot release the child.

Missing parents. The government either deported parents or put them in detention centers, giving them several choices without properly advising them of what those choices entailed. At one point, the government told parents they would have to pay to have their children returned. That proposal was quickly rescinded after an outcry. But locating parents will take time.

Deficient coordinating strategy. There is little to no coordination with Homeland Security or among the federal detention centers, youth centers and nonprofit community organizations working tirelessly to reunite families.

As bleak as the crisis is, there are ways individuals can help. First, learn more about the crisis and how to help by following the news and attending community forums. It is imperative as a citizen that you know what the government is doing in your name.

Second, give. There are several organizations working with boots on the ground in various capacities along the border states. Here are three we recommend:

LUPE | La Unión del Pueblo Entero | Supports members of low-income communities to be self-empowered and to advocate for issues that impact their lives. LUPE was founded by César Chávez and has been working in the border communities for decades. With nearly 50 staff members, they have intimate knowledge and capacity to help reunify families. https://lupenet.org/  and https://www.facebook.com/LUPErgv/

ACLU TX | American Civil Liberties Union | Works to defend the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people by the Constitution
https://www.aclutx.org/

Las Americas | Provides legal needs for low-income immigrants
http://las-americas.org/ | https://www.facebook.com/lasamericasIAC/

It should go without saying that voting in November will matter in getting the right local, state and federal people in office who care about human rights. But there are still people who think these human rights issues don’t involve them. If you’re reading this—you care. So can you ask 3 of your friends to care and vote, too?

This is a call to action like no other. It’s shameful that the Trump administration is closing the doors on people fleeing harshness and cruelty. Let’s get these families reunited! And let’s vote for candidates that believe in human rights this November 6!

Come learn more about this dire situation and how you can help at a free event sponsored by the City of West Hollywood and hosted by the strategic insights group—on Tuesday, July 31 from 7 to 8:30pm at West Hollywood City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069. 

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