How TCRP Continues to Fight Family Separation
By Kassandra Gonzalez and Georgina Guzman
Many people came to know about family separations through our work in South Texas in 2018. Although the issue is not making headlines in 2022, the fight against family separations has not ended. Families seeking asylum in the U.S. are still being separated.
During the summer of 2018, we were ground zero in responding to the human rights atrocities committed under the Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance Policy (ZTP) in McAllen, Texas. The Trump Administration portrayed migrants, including children, as dangerous criminals invading the U.S., in order to justify ZTP and its prosecution and separation of families seeking asylum. However, many of these families were just seeking refuge from horrible, violent situations.
Now, although ZTP has ended, family separations continue under a different name. Due to the web of anti-immigrant laws in the U.S., many families seeking asylum are forced to attempt to cross the border for a second or third time, and in doing so they are criminalized by the U.S. The U.S. is currently still separating families on the basis of this criminalization. Our Beyond Borders team is on the frontlines working to change this.
In the McAllen federal courthouse back in the summer of 2018, TCRP was the only non-profit organization conducting intakes with the hundreds of adults who were separated from their children. We walked into the courtroom every day, where the harm committed against these individuals was palpable. To this day, our team is still haunted by the look in their eyes and their pain and desperation when we told them they would not see their children after their court hearing.
All immigrants were shackled from their feet and hands as they walked into the courtroom. Most of the people we spoke with did not understand what was happening and why they were being treated like criminals. The vast majority had never been arrested or been in any sort of legal trouble; they were being treated this way solely because of their immigration status. The desperation the separated parents experienced in their fruitless search for answers was apparent, and we can only imagine the confusion and pain that the separated children faced.
The Biden Administration has launched the Family Reunification Task Force, which provides some relief to families whose rights were violated during ZTP. However, we remain extremely concerned that the government has not centralized any sort of mental health resources or support for the families that it put through this trauma.
Because of our work with these families on the ground, witnessing their pain and the injustice they continue to endure, we are fighting for policy change that will prevent family separation. There are currently two ongoing lawsuits that seek to limit the government’s authority to separate families. We are working with partners on these lawsuits to ensure that families obtain necessary support to recover from the trauma that they suffered. While these negotiations are ongoing, the government is persisting in its criminalization of migrants. We are emphasizing to the lead attorneys on these cases that people seeking asylum deserve to be welcomed and treated with human dignity, not criminalized.
We hoped that when Trump ended ZTP, family separation would also end, but that was not the case. In the past year, under the Biden Administration, TCRP has worked with six separated families. We advised these families about their legal rights, including their right to seek asylum, and explained the reunification process with the children. So far, in two cases, we have been able to coordinate successful reunifications–this involved getting the parent released from detention by coordinating with pro bono legal counsel; coordinating with shelter staff and the child’s attorney; and providing clients with additional immigration resources.
We remain in contact with separated families and continue to advise them about their rights and the case processes. Our goal is to ensure that they obtain the most just relief as possible under the ongoing litigation. We inform our litigation and advocacy directly through the lived experiences of these families. This July, we began advocating on behalf of a family we met in Guatemala during a trip in 2019. Under ZTP, the father and daughter were separated. They were deported separately and later reunited. In addition, as part of the benefits from the Ms. L v. ICE litigation, they and their immediate family were paroled into the U.S. However, without clear solid governmental procedures and benefits in place to support this family, we remain concerned that they may not be able to successfully navigate the situation alone.
In addition to directly supporting separated migrant families, we have met with public defenders and investigators to identify and refer family separation cases to TCRP. In July, we once again visited the McAllen Public Defender’s office to provide training on identifying family separation referrals and to provide an update on current family separation issues.
Andy Nogueras, Kassi Gonzalez, Laura Peña, and Georgina Guzman at the McAllen Public Defender’s office following a family separation training.
Despite our continued direct legal efforts, our federal government currently has no intention to truly stop separating families; if it did, our country would commit to welcoming all people–Black, Brown, or Indigenous–with dignity and respect. We continue to emphasize this to the Biden Administration by submitting public comments, informing ongoing litigation, participating in local and national efforts, and going to various media outlets — all to urge the administration to stop the criminalization of migration, which is fueling these separations.
To permanently stop family separations, we need to change the narrative around immigration, criminalization, and their related policies in this country, so that criminalization is no longer the default for people simply seeking safety and a better life. Neither immigration nor "criminality" should be used as the basis for separating families and causing undue harm.
Visit this page to contribute to our Beyond Borders program which is working to reunify families and end family separation once and for all.
Special thanks to the hundreds of families who trusted us and continue to trust us with your stories and cases. We are committed to fighting alongside you.