Crisis on the border: a week in review

As outrage grows across the country, the Trump administration is now “backing away” from the arguably immoral and unsustainable policy of separating the families of migrants when prosecuting the parents for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexican border. But what happens next for the parents and children detained, as well as for immigration reform amid an unpopular family separation narrative, is still turbid and murky. Here’s what’s happened since we published last week.

Immigration officials ordered to reunify families

Federal Judge Dana Sabraw, San Diego, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California on Tuesday granted a preliminary injunction sought by the American Civil Liberties Union, barring the separation of migrant children from their parents and ordering immigration officials to reunify families that have been divided as a result of a “zero tolerance” policy within 30 days, while children under five must be reunited with parents within 14 days.

Last week, Trump signed an executive order reversing course on forced separation, replacing it with family detention. However, about 2,000 children remain split from their parents as a result of policy that was inefficiently executed, explained and reversed.

House votes down conservative, hard-line immigration package

Last Thursday in Washington, the U.S. House rejected an immigration bill as moderate Republicans in the GOP- controlled chamber found its hard-line provisions too difficult to digest. At a 193-231 vote on the floor, its opponents swiftly killed the bill. In what seems to be the first of two likely votes addressing the country’s severely complex immigration system, the vote broke down primarily along partisan lines. Within the 36-member Texas delegation, 22 Texas Republicans backed the bill while two Republicans – U.S Reps. Will Hurd of Helotes, who represents Far West Texas, and Louie Gohmert of Tyler voted against it, as did all the state’s Democrats.

“I have long advocated for securing our nation’s borders and providing a permanent legislative fix for DACA recipients, but this proposal does not accomplish either goal,” Representative Hurd said in a statement. “Furthermore, I cannot support a bill that fails to effectively address family separations at the border, establishes a long and winding road for DACA recipients at the expense of existing visa programs and doubles down on an expensive and ineffective 4th century border security tool that takes private property away from hundreds of Texans.” “I’ve said time and time again that a longterm solution must be bipartisan, and I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle so that we can actually solve these problems once and for all,” Hurd added.

Both bills are trying to address two politically charged issues: Trump’s call for increased border security measures, including construction of a wall, and the status of “Dreamers,” young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children and have lived here most of their lives. The most recent, unfolding crisis of separating families has influenced and impacted the measures up for debate.

Each of the bills were altered to require that immigrant families stay together, even if the parents are prosecuted for crossing the border illegally. They would both do away with a long-standing federal policy limiting custody of migrant children to 20 days in order to allow them to stay with their parents in incarceration over a longer period. Both bills would also do away with the visa lottery – a process that allows for a small fraction of immigration applicants to apply for a green card.

A vote on a more moderate bill was expected on Thursday, but House GOP leadership abruptly pushed that vote back to Friday or potentially even later.

Tornillo facility contract to expire July 13

The tent city erected at the Tornillo port of entry, near El Paso, opened less than two weeks ago to house undocumented immigrant children. The Tornillo facility has gained a fair amount of particular attention being a “tent” city, generating fear in how the facilities are perceived – as worse condition than others across the state. Alexsandra Annello, District 2 representative on the El Paso City Council, noted that this was not necessarily true. While opposed to the scenario at large, she commented that she felt, “at least somewhat more comfortable,” being made aware during a facility briefing that the amount of emergency and disaster relief set up at the camp, was in large part to help the children feel more comfortable during this traumatic time. Albeit a high security facility overall, Annello stated that there was a general sense of forthright effort being made to ensure what comfort is possible as well at attempts at successful re-unification.

The director of the organization at Tornillo has been openly verbal in his opposition to Trump’s “zero-tolerance” mandate, stating that children should not be used as a scare tactic. “It was an incredibly dumb, stupid decision,” he said, adding that he hopes to never again conduct an operation like this one. The incident commander for BCFS Health and Human Services, which operates the facility, said he doesn’t yet see a need to extend operations beyond that date because he doesn’t expect the arrival of many more minors. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said that the government could ask to extend the contract — and even expand the facility if needed. “The federal government will make a decision [later] about future needs,” said HHS spokesman Mark Weber. Tornillo port property had initially been chosen by the organization, as opposed to encampments at Border Patrol headquarters, for example, because it is housed on federal land, meaning that is does not have to adhere to state regulations, such as regulations on child protective services.

The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy has placed a significant strain on Texas’ shelters for unaccompanied children, creating an influx of more than 1,600 children that has pushed the facilities close to capacity, state data shows. In his order, Trump directed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to find ways to hold the families together, but the federal government’s centers for immigrant families have limited capacity, raising questions about whether such a plan is possible.

Fort Bliss may be new immigrant housing site

As one door closes, another opens. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is eyeing Fort Bliss, an Army base in El Paso, as a potential location for a cluster of temporary shelters that could house between 1,000 and 5,000 children. According to the Texas Tribune, a department spokesperson confirmed the report Wednesday and added that it is working with the U.S. Department of Defense to tour the sites and determine whether they are “suitable and selected for unaccompanied alien children program operations.”

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat who represents El Paso and Fort Bliss, said Tuesday afternoon he had not received confirmation of the reports. “We have nothing confirmed about where or if military bases will be used for certain,” he said. “But, I first and foremost am opposed to this policy of family separation.” “This is absolutely the wrong thing for our country to be doing, and I would hate to see us continue this,” he added. “The prospect of building tents or using resources at military installations is just wrong.” Annello, of El Paso, stated that she was unsure at this moment what the operation at Fort Bliss would like look, though she is “confident Fort Bliss will uphold a higher standard”, as it has proven in the past to “be a great institution, doing a lot for our community and our district.

“Lots of people in my district have family and friends who have grown up in Mexico, so my constituents are feeling generally uncomfortable with regards to human rights”, Anello states. In comments regarding policies at large, she criticized justifications by way of “safety”, stating that it doesn’t translate – the refusal to take comprehensive immigration reform into consideration and resorting to a “zero-tolerance” policy has not aided in any issues previously faced regarding crime in her district and the El Paso area at large. She is currently working within her district to help city organizers tackle such pressing needs as legal fees and has “hope that Fort Bliss is open to allowing help in some way” from the community, her constituents and the city of El Paso.

Due Process and “zero tolerance”: A breakdown

According to a Twitter post, Trump has stated that undocumented immigrants were invaders who “must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, be sent home”. Such comments provoked assessment regarding the United States stripping both immigrants and asylum seekers of due-process rights.

Here is what that means as applied in cases of undocumented immigration:

Due process, according to the Supreme Court, allows people to exercise the legal rights and court processes afforded to them by American Law, and it allows them to contest an action proposed by the government in front of a neutral decision maker, like a judge.

Do undocumented immigrants have a right to due process? Yes.

The Constitution’s right to due process protects anyone on United States soil, even if they enter the country illegally, and is consistently upheld by courts. Of course, however, people generally have greater legal protections inside the country rather than at the border and just how much process is deemed to be “due” depends on the situation. Immigrants ordered to leave the country can fight deportation through civil proceedings involving immigration courts, presenting testimony and evidence before an immigration judge, akin to a trial. They can be represented by a lawyer and can appeal unfavorable decisions to the Board of Immigration Appeals as well as challenge rulings and ordered deportations in front of a federal court. These processes, however, can take months or even years, in lieu of the significant backlog of similar cases and considering the weight of legal, financial and bureaucratic obstacles.

Is it possible for the government to bypass that process? Yes.

There exists a 1996 statue permitting immigration authorities to deport people without a hearing, lawyer or right to appeal under certain conditions – a process known as expedited removal. The Department of Homeland Security criteria for expedited removals, under current policy, applies to undocumented migrants found within 100 miles of the border and within fourteen days of entering the country. The statue imposes no geographic limit and does allow for expedited removals up to two years after a migrant has entered the country, which raises the possibility of the Trump administration using this power more aggressively.

Immigrants may avoid expedited removal by seeking asylum and when that happens, officers at the United States citizenship and Immigration Services – not a judge – will review such cases to decide whether applicants have a credible fear of persecution back home, and they are places in the immigration court system for a more adequate consideration of their request. This being said, “zero tolerance” and criminal prosecution further complicates matters. While both asylum and deportation proceedings are a civil process, the government can also separately pursue criminal prosecution in regular federal court – as illegally entering the United States is a misdemeanor on the first offense and a felony for repeat offender and in April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy for such crimes. The systemic practices of handing adults to the custody of the Unites States marshals for criminal prosecution so separates families because their children can’t be held in custody, and so are considered “unaccompanied”. From here immigration authorities send the children to the Health and Human Services Dept. As of Trump’s signed executive order last week, the Homeland Security Departments stopped transferring adults with children to the marshals, creating only temporary reprieve.

The New York Times and The Texas Tribune contributed to this story.