'We Don’t Know If Kids Are Being Reunited': Legal Expert Explains Why Trump's Immigration Policy is So Damaging
We have read the headlines in our newsfeeds. We have heard the young children cry out for their parents. We have seen Jeff Sessions quote the Bible to uphold a policy that many Americans feel in their souls is both ungodly and inhumane. Thousands of families have already been torn apart at the border. And though President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he will end family separation, the future remains unclear for those already impacted.
Martha Laura Garcia, a legal aid attorney in New Mexico, knows first-hand about the fight to protect vulnerable communities. Since the start of Trump's family separation policy in May, she has worked to reunite detained immigrant fathers with their children. Here is what she had to say about Trump’s border policy and the way forward.
Are there misconceptions that Americans have about Trump’s border policy?
There’s not much of a basis for this policy. It’s more of a tactic than anything else. I think that the government was intending to deter people from coming with their families, or using their kids as their “in.” And what we’ve seen is people haven’t been using their kids in this way to begin with. Most of the men I’ve talked to aren’t coming in with their kids because they think it’ll be easier, but because they’re fleeing. They’re looking for better opportunities.
The people that are coming really have no choice. It’s not an easy decision to leave your home, your country, your culture, somewhere where you can understand the language and put yourself through the whole journey of crossing through Mexico where there are also human rights violations, or where immigrants from Central America are being treated similarly to immigrants here.
Do you think there are larger implications for people who live in this country if these types of policies continue?
I think we’re going to be suffering or enduring the consequences of just the two months of this policy for the next several decades. Because at this point, we don’t know if kids are being reunited with their parents. And if the parent or the child is deported, what’s going to happen to the family left behind? And at the end of the day, we’re all paying for these detention centers and foster homes with our tax dollars, and these are children that are going to be in the system until they’re 18. And once they get out, they’re not going to have the same support group that you or I had growing up here, they’re not going to have the same links to the community or access to education or healthcare. It’s like we’re creating work for ourselves in the future.
What are three things that non-immigrant communities can do to stop families from being torn apart?
I think one big advantage, especially for people that are able to vote, is calling your local representatives or showing up to vote especially for local representatives that have more immigrant-friendly policies and ideas. It’s a great way for people to use their privilege of being able to vote, being able to speak out.
If you can’t donate, then at least share the different fundraisers on Facebook and different websites that are providing legal services, medical services, therapy, interpreters — whatever the service might be.
Attend rallies because those rallies will be most likely organized by the immigrant community. Showing up and having the immigrant community see that you support them means a lot. A lot of the times, as a member of the immigrant community myself, you might feel sometimes isolated. And so, when you show up, even when you call up and say, “I’m listening, what do you need?” That means a lot.
What are three things we can do to support people like you doing the work, day-in and day-out?
I think a lot of these organizations depend on donations. Any type of donation helps.
Also, volunteering. There are a lot of ways to volunteer at legal aid organizations that don’t require having any type of legal background. Providing support to the immigrant families, like if someone needs a place to stay, offering your home. I know that’s a big ask.
I would also say sharing the story of the people who are affected, with their permission, obviously. So, if you’ve had a friend who’s been affected by this--even if it’s not family separation, but a larger immigration problem-- sharing their story and not trying to tell their story yourself. Give them the space to tell their own story.
Fundraising not just for the organization doing the work, but for the actual families. For the people who aren’t eligible to be released on bonds, there is no maximum to what a judge can say the bonds can be. There’s a minimum of $1,500, but we’ve seen bonds as high as $20,000. Obviously, a lot of people can’t pay that. Fundraising to pay for bonds is another way to help because there are a lot of people offering free or no cost legal services along the border, but the impact is a lot larger if the attorney is able to get the person released on bonds. If not, they have to stay in detention and then it just perpetuates family separation.