David Leopold: “A welcome first step”
The Biden administration is taking steps to undo and repair some of the most cruel elements of the Trump era immigration. Trump’s cruelty towards immigrants remains a moral stain on the nation and one of the reasons he was rejected by the multiracial majority in America. In recent days, the Biden administration has made major announcements, including:
- Announcing closure of ICE detention facilities in Georgia and Massachusetts that have long histories of abuse and neglect: The Biden administration announced today that ICE will cut the contracts of two detention facilities, the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, GA and the Bristol County Detention Center in North Dartmouth, MA. Horrific accounts from detained immigrants at the Irwin County Detention Center were recently detailed in a DHS OIG complaint filed by Georgia-based groups and in a class action lawsuit describing multiple levels of abuse, including a pattern of invasive gynecological procedures performed on women held at the facility without informed consent. Bristol County also has a long history of abuse and neglect, as detailed in a recent State AG report and class action lawsuit. The memo from the Department of Homeland Security indicates that ICE will end its 287(g) agreement with Bristol County – one of 148 287(g) agreements in place as of January 2021 – and promises a review of all ICE jails to identify additional facilities for closure. Read more in Maria Sacchetti’s Washington Post piece here and a press release from the Detention Watch Network and We Are Home campaign here.
- Locating and reuniting separated families. The most shocking of Trump’s border-centric, deportation-only and deterrence-focused policies was family separation. It remains an indefensible moral stain and a human rights catastrophe perpetuated by America. Yesterday, the latest court filing from lawyers working to reunite the separated families reported that the Biden administration and advocates had located the parents of 54 additional migrant children from families separated under Trump. This means that the parents of 391 children are yet to be found. Of note, the newly located parents means we will hopefully see more powerful examples of families being reunified, such as those in the news in recent weeks (see here).
- Reuniting the Juarez family, torn apart by deportation. The Juarez family is a mixed-status family that was torn apart by the devastating deportation in 2018 of their mother, Alejandra Juarez. Alejandra was deported from the United States in August 2018 after building a life and family in the Orlando area for nearly 20 years. She is a military wife to Sgt. Temo Juarez, a combat veteran who served three tours of duty overseas, and together they raised their two U.S.-born daughters, Pamela and Estela, in Florida. On Mother’s Day, she was reunited in America with her family, thanks to the Biden administration. See more about the Juarez family’s reunification in this powerful new ad from FWD.us.
According to David Leopold, legal advisor to America’s Voice, Chair of Immigration at Ulmer & Berne and former President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association:
The Biden Administration’s decision to stop detaining immigrants at two detention facilities in Massachusetts and Georgia and rescind associated 287(g) agreements is a welcome first step toward undoing Trump’s four year reign of cruelty against immigrants and building back the rule of law in U.S. immigration enforcement.
But there is much more to be done. As a candidate, President Biden supported ending the notorious 287(g) program under which state and local officials partner with ICE to enforce immigration law in their communities. According to members of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), 287(g) agreements are “a major factor destroying community trust.” They can also be used to abuse detained immigrants.
There is perhaps no greater example of the dangers posed by 287(g) agreements than in Bristol County, Massachusetts and Irwin County, Georgia. Both county jails are under federal investigation for assaulting detainees with pepper balls, a flash-bang grenade and unwanted gynecological procedures, including hysterectomies. Today’s announcement by Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas brings hope that in the days and weeks to come the Biden administration will end all 287(g) agreements throughout the U.S. and ensure that ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will abide by the highest professional standards and are held accountable for inhumane treatment of immigrants.
The Biden administration is also making progress toward the reunification of migrant children taken from their parents at the border by Trump’s despicable family separation scheme. The slow but apparently steady reunification of families separated by Trump’s brazen cruelty is an important first step toward ensuring that all separated children are reunited with their parents. Trump’s abhorrent family separation scheme will forever stain American history, but each family reunification is a step toward rectifying the horrors of family separation and building back adherence to the rule of law which was so badly broken by the Trump administration.
Further, the reunification of Alejandra Juarez with her family in Orlando, Florida offers another ray of hope for the thousands of families whose loved ones have been deported during Trump’s four year assault undocumented immigrants, particularly immigrants of color. The Biden administration, recognizing the abject cruelty of Alejandra’s deportation, granted her humanitarian parole, allowing her to return to her family in Orlando. The Biden administration’s use of humanitarian parole to remedy the injustice of a senseless deportation offers hope to American families across the country whose families were torn apart by Trump’s cruel deportation scheme.
Each of these welcome developments – the severing of 287(g) agreements amid allegations of abuse of immigrant detainees, the reunification of families separated at the border, and the use of humanitarian parole to bring home a deported wife and mother – are a welcome part of the Biden administration’s effort to undo Trump’s unprecedented cruelty and to build back from the grave injustices and abuses perpetrated on immigrants throughout Trump’s time in the White House.”