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The Human Side of Family Separations

22 Aug

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last year, people from all over the country poured into the city to help complete strangers. I was so inspired by the selflessness of those who assisted others whose homes were flooded. It made me so proud to be an American, in a country where people drop everything they are doing for those in need.

I recently volunteered with a group of attorneys at RAICES in San Antonio to represent individuals who came to America for a better life. Their home countries have been ravaged, not by recent natural disasters, but by human hands. War, gang/domestic violence, persecution, governmental chaos…

While volunteering at the Karnes County Residential Area southeast of San Antonio, I met a woman who started her journey from a Central American country to the United States in February. She was too poor to afford a television to understand the politics or rule of law in our country, and she was unable to work in her neighborhood or relocate within her own country to find a job due to gang violence. She is a mother of six children, some of whom are a byproduct of assault by gang members. She decided to will her way to a better life for her and her youngest child, a five-year-old boy. She was promised by her transporters that the United States would “help” her.

When she arrived at our southern border, she presented herself to a border patrol agent. Since then, she has been placed in various centers and facilities and was separated from her son for nearly two months. I witnessed the reunification of this mother with her son during my time at Karnes. The positive, if you consider this encouraging, is that this mother and her son are finally reunited – detained together.

I am inspired by all the staff attorneys, legal assistants, and interns at RAICES. To wake up every day and optimistically fight for the rights of immigrants. It’s not easy, but they do it willingly with humility and passion. The reality is that this woman and her son may not be able to ultimately stay in the United States. Though she may claim that she has a credible fear and apply for an immigration benefit called asylum, these applications are denied more often than they are approved. These denial statistics will likely trend upward based on the Attorney General’s recent statements that domestic and gang violence are rarely grounds for asylum. With our current administration’s hardened stance on immigration, as more immigrants in need reach the United States, they will likely be detained together and then sent back to their home countries.

My heartfelt plea is that a country like ours that rallied so strongly for one group can resolutely extend compassion to the other.