BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Although President Trump signs an executive order to stop families being separated at international borders, it is still happening.
That is the claim of Michael Seifert, border advocacy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas.
“We were witnesses on how they denied the entrance to the whole family or separated a family unit at that time,”Seifert said, speaking about what he witnessed at the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville on Wednesday.
“They let in mom and two children and they told the father you do not pass. They told him you have to wait.”
Seifert said the family was waiting in the middle of the bridge with five other families, with a total of 14 adults and five children. Seifert said ACLU has filed a complaint.
“We filed a complaint with Customs and the Border Patrol without any response,” Seifert said.
Seifert said his group’s observers have noticed a decrease in the number of families that are requesting asylum at international ports of entry. However, he believes the reason is the separation of families on the bridges is forcing them to cross via the Rio Grande, without documentation.
“We suspect that it is because of fear of not going to the bridge, Seifert said.
He said ACLU observers found another family at the Hidalgo–Reynosa International Bridge and that they had to intervene to let them pass.
“We found a mother and son yesterday in Hidalgo,” Seifert said.
And do they let them in, a reporter asked. “Yes, after we insisted,” he added.
Efrén C. Olivares, director of the racial and economic justice program at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said he had just learned that four families have been reunified and released and eight families are in a detention center for families. However, he said some family members deported alone.
“Five adults have been deported without their children and two children were being deported without their parents.”
Olivares said that there are still families waiting to be reunited. “We interviewed 381 fathers and mothers separated from their children and 266 remain separated because we have confirmed that they are in a detention center for adults,” he said.
Seifert and Olivares were interviewed at a rally held in Brownsville on Thursday to protest against President Trump’s immigration policies. The protestors demanded the immediate reunification of families separated and condemned the plan to jail families.
It is estimated that more that more than 1,000 activists, concerned citizens, and organizations such as ACLU of Texas, United We Dream, and others came together in front of the federal court and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brownsville.
“As a mother of four children, I feel what moms feel and the trauma that is being caused to the children,” said Samantha de la Garza, a Rio Grande Valley resident who attended the rally with her children. She was wearing a jacket that said: “We Should All Care.” Her little baby was wearing a shirt saying: “Mommy I care.”
Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez was also in the rally. He said he has not been allowed to go to the immigrant detention centers, even though at least one is in his city and others are in neighboring communities. “They didn’t let us in, we have tried to find out who is there,” said Martinez.
ACLU announced through a press release Tuesday that they had won a nationwide preliminary injunction in federal court that halts the practice of immigrant family separation and orders family reunification.
However, they cautioned: “But the plight of immigrant families is far from resolved, as children and parents now face indefinite detention at the border.”
On Tuesday, in the same federal court where the rally took place, the Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas said the Department of Justice was still maintaining a “zero tolerance” policy.
However, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick explained: “We were not expecting to see any family unit persecution for misdemeanors.”
Seifert and Olivares showed concerns about where children and parents are being taken now family units are not being prosecuted.
Seifert expressed his concerns for the conditions of the families waiting on the bridges. He asked for donations.
“We are worried about the families that are stopped on the other side of the border on the bridges, without any reason, with family, with children, for hours, days and even weeks,” Seifert said.
“We are asking people to bring water, pampers and all that. We are going to announce it on Facebook (where people can make a donation) because we have to find a church,” said Seifert.