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  • Amari Verástegui

The Family Separation Crisis at the border will define us as a country

Since June 17, (Father’s Day) I’ve thought a lot about what is happening at the border and how—barring a few circumstances, my family, too could have been one of those traveling thousands of miles to seek refuge in the US. Instead, I was fortunate to be able to fly from Ecuador at the age of 2, with my parents and older sister over 35 years ago, having legal status. However, I know many people who have made that journey and all they want is an opportunity to live without fear and to see their kids grow up without being forced to witness daily gang violence , extorted by criminals, or working for a drug cartel. This is the reality that they are fleeing—either do what we want or we will kill you or hurt your family. In the case of young girls or women—they are often targeted by gang leaders to be in a relationship or are fleeing abusive husbands/boyfriends who threaten them constantly. There have already been documented cases of people who are found dead a few months after being deported from the US. In short, people’s lives are literally at stake.

This is the stark reality of the crisis that we are facing:

  • Families are surviving a treacherous journey to seek asylum only to be turned away at the border or detained and charged with a criminal offense.

  • Children as young as 8 months old, are being separated from their parents or caregivers and traumatized on a daily basis because they cannot see their parents and are often placed in detention centers or “tender-age shelters” and no one is allowed to hold or comfort them when they cry.

  • Desperate parents, without any legal representation, are signing voluntary self-deportation agreements with the hope that this will help them be reunited with their children faster. They then find that there is no actual process for keeping track of their kids and are now in danger of being deported at any moment (or have been deported), without their children.

  • Children, many who are pre-verbal, are being given Know Your Rights workshops and expected to be present at their court proceedings without their parents and often without legal representation. Those lucky enough to have an attorney, may not be able to provide the necessary information or details to their lawyer for them to effectively present their case.

The outrage everyone has been feeling and the backlash across the country and around the world has led to some positive steps—but they are not enough. So what can we do to help stop these family separations from happening and reuniting those that have already been split up?

  • Call your MoCs every day and demand that they pass the Keep Families Together Act and provide funding for legal services for all parents and children in deportation proceedings (Gov. Murphy has already signaled that he is in favor of allocating $2.1M in funding for FY19). It is not enough that Trump signed an executive order today, this does nothing to help the families that have already been separated and will actually make it easier for families to be detained together indefinitely instead of being released while their asylum cases are being processed.

  • Donate to organizations on the ground, like RAICES and Texas Civil Rights Project who provide legal representation and other critical services—like funding bond payments, which can help parents reunite with their children (these are a few lists of great organizations and other ways to help: Slate, Cut, Texas Tribune, and RAICES FAQ)

  • Participate in the #FamilesBelongTogether National March and Day of Action on Saturday, June 30. There will be a major march in DC and in sister cities all over the country. Join one of these events and show Congress that we are watching and will take action now and in November.

  • Volunteer some time if you are able to travel to the border or can also help locally (the mayor confirmed a NYC foster center is housing kids who have been separated)—especially, if you have any legal experience or speak Spanish, French, or other indigenous languages. You can offer to help with intake, translate documents, or help with other language or administrative needs.

The actions that we take over the next few weeks and months—denouncing this senseless cruelty, will determine what kind of a country we want to be…Are we a country of compassion and love or a country that espouses fear and indifference?

Thank you for everything you have done and are doing.

--Amari Verastegui, Immigration Huddle Lead

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