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Women’s Refugee Commission Joins Ohio Legal and Pediatric Experts to Discuss the Southern Border Refugee Situation

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A recording of the call is available here.

Cleveland, OH – The Trump Administration’s manufactured “family separation” crisis at our nation’s southern border has captured headlines and outraged Americans in Ohio and nationwide.  

On the same day that the government released updated numbers showing that its policies have not had the “deterrence effect” it sought, the Women’s Refugee Commission joined a nationally-recognized pediatrician and legal experts from Ohio to discuss this multilayered issue.  

They answered questions like 1) Why are Central American families seeking safety in the U.S. in the first place?; 2) What policies have the Trump Administration implemented and what have been their consequences?; and 3) What are the alternatives to family separation and family detention they could be utilizing?

Read on from quotes from these nationally-recognized experts as well as a list of policy resources at the end.

Brian Hoffman, pro bono coordinator at the International Institute of Akron said, “There is a major misconception that family separation policies are new. But the horrific situations we currently find ourselves in – children being abused, families being separated, and a lack of access to medical care – are really just predictable escalations of policies and system failures that began four years ago.  While The George W. Bush administration ended the practice of family detention in 2009, the practice was restarted in 2014 by the Obama administration. I volunteered at the detention center at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia back in 2014 where we witnessed firsthand the beginnings of the abhorrently abusive enforcement practices that we now see taking place with impunity across the nation. I can vividly recall the white prisons vans with window bars, interior caging, and child car seats that transported volunteers around the Artesia facility four years ago. In 2015 I served as managing attorney of the pro bono project at the detention center in Dilley, Texas, a facility that is owned and operated by Correction Corporation of America (now called ‘CoreCivic’), the largest private prison company in the U.S. I distinctly recall the horror in the summer of 2015 when 250 children were given the wrong dose of the wrong vaccine, in many cases despite their mothers’ protests. I am sad to say that for so many of us working on these issues, the utter brutality of the current enforcement regime was completely predictable given what we’ve witnessed over the last few years and the wholly inadequate response by the prior administration to widespread and repeated formal complaints about abusive detention practices in family detention. I now work with a project called the Immigration Justice Campaign that seeks to expand pro bono representation at ICE detention centers, and my more recent experiences have made it abundantly clear that in reality every detained immigration case is a family separation case. Every individual detained has family somewhere. I can remember sitting in Dilley in the summer of 2015 and predicting that there would be rioting if DHS went through with its then-tentative plans to separate children from their parents. Given my experiences in these detention centers, I am not so much shocked by the cruelty of our government’s treatment of asylum-seekers and their families as I am by America’s sadly inadequate response.”

Maureen DeVito, volunteer attorney with Catholic Charities, who recently visited the federal family detention center in Dilley, TX said, “Separated families are coming from horrific situations where, for example, a mother’s daughter was killed and later received death threats from the same people who killed her daughter. She moved four hours away but the group found them again. That’s when they made the journey to the U.S. to save their lives. What is particularly appalling is how the mother’s 15 year old son was treated in detention. He stayed three days in the ‘refrigerator’– a room where there are no blankets or beds, just aluminum covering. He received three cookies and juice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner the first three days. It was twenty days before he was able to make contact with his mother. They were separated for two months. Families like this one are being turned away when they have the right to enter the U.S. One was turned away at the bridge the morning they arrived, then again later in the afternoon. They slept on the street in Mexico and returned the next day and were denied entry to the U.S. again. On their third attempt, they were arrested.”

Katharina Obser, Senior Policy Advisor, Women’s Refugee Commission said, “In the wake of its unconscionable separation policies that created this chaos, now the Trump administration insists on perpetuating a false choice between separating asylum-seeking families or detaining them as a solution. Instead of promoting policies that are well documented to be traumatic and to severely inhibit access to asylum, the administration should turn to proven and cost-effective alternatives to detention such as Family Case Management Program. Prior to the administration canceling the program last year, Family Case Management Program demonstrated compliance rates of nearly 100 percent with court appearances, was cost-effective, and most importantly was humane. It’s time to reinstate this program.”

Dr. Robert Needlman, a Cleveland pediatrician and the modern-day author of the Dr. Spock baby books, was unable to join the press call at the last minute.  He spoke about the impact of family separation and detention on children’s mental health and development at the Cleveland “Families Belong Together” rally in June.  Read Dr. Needlman’s Letter To the Editor in the Cleveland Plain Dealer here.

See also these resources from DHS Watch, a project of America’s Voice: