WESLACO, RGV – President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigration, which includes forcibly separating Central American children from their undocumented immigrant parents is nothing short of torture.
That is the view of Michael Seifert, border advocacy strategists for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.
“To take a child from a parent cannot be classified as anything less than torture. The American Academy of Pediatricians can talk to that,” Seifert said, at a roundtable held at the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council in Weslaco.
“These folks who have come here have been marked as criminals. They came to the United States in good faith. They came looking for asylum. They are fleeing a horrific situation that both parties have recognized. These are children who have already lived lives that… I do not think we have a vocabulary to describe the experiences they have come through.”
Seifert said physicians are already treating children that are traumatized by what they have witnessed in their home country. “Then, because of a decision by our attorney general, this trauma has dramatically expanded.”
Seifert said ACLU staff have witnessed what happens when they children fare removed from their parents in an immigration processing center. “It is an astonishing thing what is happening in our country. It is unnecessary, it is criminal. We will continue to lift up the voices of these families and also our community, which does not stand with this posture.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the new “zero tolerance” policy on May 6. Since then, the number of Central American children being separated from their parents and handed over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement has skyrocketed, said U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, who hosted the roundtable.
“We are now finding that Health & Human Services facilities are at 99 percent capacity and in the last month there has been a 22 percent increase in the number of children who have been separated from their parents,” Vela told the Rio Grande Guardian, in an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian after the roundtable had concluded.
“Between October 2007 and April 2018 there were 700 children separated from their parents. Within the two short weeks of the implementation of the zero-tolerance policy there were 658 children separated and from what we are hearing, those numbers are increasing dramatically,” Vela said.
In his opening remarks at the roundtable, Vela said the “humanitarian crisis” of 2014, when tens of thousands of Central Americans came into the United States through the South Texas border, was being matched by President Trump’s actions.
“This one is as a direct result of President Trump’s zero tolerance policy. On May 6, Attorney General Sessions Jeff Sessions announced a zero-tolerance policy. It was very clear their intention was to separate children from their parents at all costs,” Vela said.
“The stories we are hearing leads us to believe that the what is about to unfold in this is nothing short of the crisis we experienced back in 2014. The only difference is this is a crisis manufactured by the president of the United States.”
In his remarks, Vela quoted John Kelly, the president’s chief of staff and former secretary of homeland security. During his confirmation process, Kelly told U.S. senators:
“Our drug use has brought a level of violence to these countries that make them the most violent on the planet. Our drug use has reduced some democracies in our hemisphere to near failed narco states. The terrible conditions in terms of violence and intimidation that exist in these countries is largely due to the drug demand in the United States. These countries are among the most violent places on earth.”
Rochelle Garza is managing attorney for Garza & Garza, PLLC, in Brownsville. Garza spoke at the roundtable.
“My concern is not only for the children and what will happen to them as they get pushed through the immigration system. What is happening is the children are being ripped away from their parents. Because of this they are being funneled into the Office of Refugee Resettlement and we are seeing enormous number of children being put into a number of shelters here in the Valley,” Garza said.
“In addition to that the parents are being federal prosecuted for illegal entry. And so, if you go down to the federal courthouse you will see 50, 60, 70 people being processed for criminal charges and asking where their children are. This is a self-inflicted wound. The Trump Administration has decided to create this problem, and the children are suffering and the parents are suffering.”
Garza said the new policy is also putting pressure on the legal system.
“There are not enough prosecutors, there are not enough defense attorneys to properly handle this situation. This is a huge humanitarian crisis we are facing right now.”
Interviewed after the roundtable, Garza told the Rio Grande Guardian:
“We’ve seen surges in criminal prosecutions in the federal court system, in both McAllen and Brownsville. We’ve also seen an influx of children being pushed through the immigration courts in Harlingen. So, you are seeing two dockets a day of ten to 30 children being processed.”
Other speakers at the roundtable included Juanita Valdez-Cox, of La Unión del Pueblo Entero, and Ramona Casas of ARISE.