CBP and immigrant rights groups meet in El Paso

Special to the Presidio International EL PASO – An informational meeting on Tuesday in El Paso brought the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection together with two immigrations rights groups and an immigration attorney. The meeting included Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Fernando Garcia of the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR), Linda Rivas of Las Americas Immigration Advocacy Center, and Carlos Spector, an El Paso immigration attorney. They discussed family separation and detention of asylum-seeking Central Americans arriving in the U.S. The human rights and immigration advocates were allowed to ask Commissioner McAleenan a few questions at the short meeting about various issues that are of particular concern to the border community. After the meeting, there was a press conference where Garcia, Rivas and Spector relayed what was said. Rivas spoke first and she said, “We do remain confused.” She tried to repeat exactly what Commissioner McAleenan told the group. “We were told in the meeting there is a temporary suspension of zero tolerance due to lack of resources by the U.S. government. Then, she said something that confused her was she was then told, “There still will be some level of family separation and family incarceration” of asylum seekers. She said Commissioner McAleenan said it was a high priority to “protect the children,” and that the parents are being vetted to make sure the parent is appropriate before reuniting the family. She said that didn’t make sense to her, because “the parents brought their children to the U.S. in order to protect them from dangerous conditions back home.” She stressed, “Families belong together and free.” Garcia stated that he was also confused by some of the things said at the meeting. McAleenan said families seeking asylum are being stopped at the U.S. ports of entry because of a lack of resources. According to Garcia, it takes four or five agents on different shifts at the busy port of entry between Juarez and El Paso to stop the people from passing through to U.S. soil where they can legally file their asylum claim. “They are wasting resources by having so many agents at the port of entry turning away asylum seekers. CBP is sending mixed signals to our community. If they have stopped zero tolerance prosecutions, why are they preparing Fort Bliss in El Paso for mass detentions of families?” Garcia also said that some of the parents whose children have been separated from them by CBP are now being told to go to a webpage to find their children. “Many parents are from a rural area and may lack skills to do that,” said Garcia. Immigration attorney Spector then spoke and stated, “Family separation or family incarceration. This is the policy. Asylum seekers at the ports of entry are now in the same position as people who cross illegally. The asylum seekers are incarcerated after trying four or five times at the port of entry to enter. This is an assault on the border.”

Garcia told reporters that “crossing the border without papers is an administration violation. They are criminalizing families seeking protection. Mass family detention reminds us of the dark days in history, where the Japanese-Americans were imprisoned in U.S. internment camps.” The Border Network representative said he asked McAleenan to allow access to tour the Tornillo child detention facility, and the family detention facility planned to be built at Fort Bliss. Garcia said that Commissioner McAleenan had responded that the tours would be arranged in the future. Said Garcia: “Zero tolerance leading to family detention and separation is not consistent with our values as a community.” There are hundreds of nationwide rallies coordinated by various human rights groups as well as individual organizers this Saturday, June 30, including 32 in Texas. El Paso’s march will start at 9am Mountain time at Cleveland Square Park and the march will go to the Paso Del Norte Bridge. Alpine’s rally will start at noon Saturday on the Brewster County Courthouse lawn.at the corner of Avenue E and North 6th Street.