ALMOST 2,000 children were separated from their families at the US border over six weeks, officials say. Following a Trump administration crackdown on ‘illegal’ border crossings from Mexico, adults are being detained, meaning the children with them are removed from their care.
The issue is causing a growing political storm in the US.
Last Thursday Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the Bible to defend the ‘zero tolerance’ approach.
It means that those entering the US irregularly are criminally prosecuted, a change to a long-standing policy of charging most of those crossing for the first time with a misdemeanour offense. As the adults are being charged with a crime and detained, the children that travel with them are being separated and classed as unaccompanied minors.
Figures from the US Department of Homeland Security show that 1,995 children were separated from 1,940 adults who are being held between 19 April and 31 May. No information was given on the age of the separated children.
The children are passed into the care of the US Department of Health and Human Services. They are transferred to government detention facilities or foster care while officials try to resolve their case.
The United Nations has called on the US to immediately halt the separations. Sessions said having children would not shield border-crossing families from prosecution. The attorney general quoted a verse from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans on obeying the laws of government. Critics say that verse was once used to justify slavery.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Congress’ highest-ranking Republican, said he was not comfortable with the tactics. House Republicans pitched a draft immigration legislation that would end the separation of children and parents at the border. Under the plan, families would be detained together.
Dozens of rallies took place across the country last Thursday to protest against the Trump administration’s family separation policy for asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border. Progressive groups organised ‘Families Belong Together’ events — or, in Spanish, ‘Familias Unidas No Divididas’ – in dozens of cities, as well as a virtual ‘lunchtime’ for activists who were unable to attend a rally in person.
President Donald Trump’s administration has recently implemented a policy of separating children from their parents as they attempt to enter the United States seeking asylum. They’re splitting up families, typically, by charging parents with illegal entry into the US and sending them into criminal custody.
Agents treat the children of the detained parents as if they were ‘unaccompanied alien children’ who had tried to enter the United States alone. The policy has sent shock waves around the country, igniting outrage on the part of immigration advocates, human rights groups, and citizens across the political spectrum.
Multiple reports of uniquely aggressive or inhumane treatment have added fuel to the fire, including a Honduran man who died by suicide less than a day after being separated from his wife and 3-year-old child by Border Patrol agents, and a Honduran woman who says officials took her daughter away while she was breastfeeding her in a detention centre.
The ‘Families Belong Together’ rallies aimed to draw attention to the administration’s family separation policy and inspire more people to do something about it. They come a day after a group of eight House Democrats on Wednesday blocked off a city street in Washington, DC, to protest the policy. There was also a rally in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Attorney General Jeff Sessions was giving a speech. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) tweeted that 40 senators now support a bill to stop kids from being taken from their parents at the border.
• Seventeen Mexican ‘guest workers’ who went on a six-day strike at a Central Washington apple orchard have been blacklisted, alleges a lawsuit that says their exclusion from work this year violates an agreement that settled the labour dispute. Columbia Legal Services filed the lawsuit last Thursday in state Superior Court in Yakima on behalf of Familias Unidas Por La Justica, a Northwest farmworkers union that assisted the Mexico workers in negotiating their settlement.
The strike at orchards near Quincy, Grant County, followed a series of complaints ranging from a scarcity of toilet paper to verbal abuse from a supervisor. It represented a flexing of muscle by an increasingly important part of the Washington farm-labour force: Foreign guest workers who come to the US under temporary H-2A visas and generally have been reluctant to protest for fear of being sent back home.
The defendants named in the lawsuit include Larson Orchards and the Washington Farm Labour Association (WAFLA), a Washington organisation that assists growers in bringing H-2A farmworkers to the Pacific Northwest. All 17 workers who went on strike signed the settlement document, according to Joe Morrison, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services.
That document included a provision that Larson would not allow retaliation against anyone involved in the work stoppage and would tell WAFLA to comply with the agreement. An attorney representing Larson said the fruit company made no effort to prevent the return of the 17 workers.
‘They (Larson) did not blacklist anyone,’ said Sara Wixson, who is representing Larson Orchards. ‘They did nothing to preclude their employment in anyway.’ WAFLA’s executive director, Dan Fazio, in a written statement, said his organisation did not sign the settlement agreement. He also said WAFLA was never notified by the plaintiffs of their attorneys about any issue regarding the workers, and therefore, ‘We can’t comment on the claims here. ‘We conduct training for employers and workers about their rights and responsibilities about H2-A. Along those lines, we will try to understand the issues and work toward a mutually agreeable solution,’ the statement said.
The 2018 farm-labour season for H-2A workers is now well underway. At the Quincy orchards, Larson Fruit hired four Mexican workers employed in 2017 who did not go on strike as well as 32 new workers, according to the lawsuit. Morrison said none of the strike participants were invited back even though they went to a recruiter’s office in Mexico multiple times and asked about employment.
Delivered bright and early weekday mornings, this email provides a quick overview of top stories and need-to-know news. ‘They were told their names weren’t on the list or the employer hasn’t asked for you back,’ Morrison said. ‘If these workers don’t get reinstated, then it says to every ag (agricultural) employer, you can rid of these workers whenever you want – and do so with impunity… They take a huge risk to speak up about working conditions.’