In an op-ed published in the New York Times, Efren Olivares, civil rights attorney and the Racial & Economic Justice Program director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, spoke of the work he and his colleagues have done in trying to reunite hundreds of the thousands of children who were torn from their families as they crossed the border seeking asylum.
The piece came just one day before the administration sought an extension to a deadline to reunite families requested by a judge, and shows just the latest callousness and heartlessness of this administration in destroying these families with no plan to reunite them immediately.
Below is an excerpt from the piece. Find the story in its entirety here.
As lawyers with the Texas Civil Rights Project, my team has been working around the clock to document hundreds of cases of children taken from their parents since the Trump administration started its “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Under that policy, the government charges every immigrant apprehended at the border with illegal entry, a misdemeanor offense — regardless of whether they’re fleeing violence and seeking asylum, or traveling with children.
Before zero tolerance, immigration and Department of Justice officials exercised their discretion on whether to press criminal charges against some immigrants and asylum seekers, particularly those traveling with children and those with special circumstances.
Each morning for the last three weeks, my colleagues and I have gone to the federal courthouse in McAllen, Tex., seven miles from the Mexican border. We arrive no later than 7:45, pass the metal detectors at the security check, and make sure to get to the eighth floor by 8.
The parents ask when they’re going to see their children again. I try to calm them and tell them I’ll do my best to make sure it happens soon. The truth is I don’t have an answer. And I can’t make a promise I’m not sure I can keep.
The stories they tell are all devastating. But as a father, I was really hit in the gut by one a few weeks back.
I was talking with a single father whose wife left him several years ago when his daughter was 3 years old. They were fleeing violence in Honduras in search of a better life. But it didn’t work out that way. Once they crossed the border, the United States charged him with a crime, and agents told him they had to take his daughter away.
As they were leaving, his daughter asked where she was going. What can a father possibly tell his daughter in that situation?
Like the character in “Life Is Beautiful,” this dad’s priority was to try to shield his little girl from pain. So he made up a story: He told her she was going to summer camp.
The girl, only 7 years old and oblivious to her plight, walked away with a big smile. She was so excited for her first day of camp.
I’ve encountered so many awful stories like this that I’ve become desensitized. I almost see them as normal.