Citizenship and immigration are major political issues in the United States. Many people want to help, but don’t know where to start. The Citizenship department, on behalf of Instituto, hopes to demystify these issues with our new biweekly segment, Policy Watch. We will keep you in the know and help you take action in ways that directly impact the lives of our clients and people in our communities.
The 2019 State of the Union, delivered on February 6, 2019, dedicated a total of 643 words to immigration and border security. Most of them were false and intentionally misleading. We refer you to the Washington Post, which thoroughly fact checks the points made and provides context which the address ignores or omits.
As a response, on February 7, Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), and his colleagues Reps. José E. Serrano (NY-15), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Donald S. Beyer Jr. (VA-08), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), led by Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) introduced a legislative package to protect immigrant rights. As reported by Lawndale News, the following bills were first introduced in 2017 and 2018 in the House and Senate to protect the rights of vulnerable immigrant communities:
- The Protecting Sensitive Locations Act, if passed, prohibits immigration enforcement in certain “sensitive locations” such as courthouses, schools, community centers and houses of worship, a now common tactic for targeting vulnerable immigrant communities.
- The Reunite Every Unaccompanied Newborn Infant Toddler and Other Children Expeditiously (REUNITE) Act, if passed, would require the immediate reunification of children who were separated from their parent or legal guardian as a result of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.
- The ICE and CBP Body Camera Accountability Act, if passed, would require Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol officers to wear body cameras and would make footage available for any legal proceedings.
- The Reuniting Families Act, if passed would repeal the per-country immigration limits and specific bars to reentry, which would allow waivers of inadmissibility to promote family unity. It would also allow relatives of a deceased alien to maintain visa eligibility and reclassify spouses, permanent partners, minor children, and stepchildren of permanent residents as immediate relatives.
On February 7, 2019, the bipartisan House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee held the first of 3 congressional hearings about the 2,737 migrant children currently identified as having been separated from their parents last year under the Trump administration's family separation policy. This hearing focused on the role of the Department of Health and Human Services in caring for and ensuring the safety of immigrant children. This was the first time that anyone in Congress testified under oath regarding family separation.
On February 8, 2019, Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker testified at the House Judiciary Subcommittee’s oversight hearing regarding his conduct at the Department of Justice. Though this hearing did not focus on the family separation policy, it did confirm some of the most shocking revelations from the first hearing:
- The Department of Human Services and the Department of Justice denied the existence of a family separation policy after HHS saw a tenfold increase in separations. DHS and DOJ, who created the family separation policy, did not inform HHS, who was tasked with caring for the separated children, until the memo became public in April 2018.
- “More children over a longer period of time were separated than was” widely known or acknowledged, according to Ann Maxwell of the HHS Office of Inspector General. HHS Secretary Alex Azad did not reach out to DOJ or DHS about this policy.
- Family separation continues. Whitaker denies this, claiming the “zero tolerance policy” of all adults being apprehended at the border for criminal persecution continues, but children are immediately separated from their parents once they are apprehended. Therefore, it is inherently a family separation policy.
- Nobody knows the total recorded number of separated migrant families. There is no database between the three departments that tracks the separations, which makes it difficult to count and keep track of the children. This was confirmed by Whitaker as well.
- According to Families Belong Together, “In December 2018, 15,000 immigrant children were in ORR custody on any given night. A 100% increase.”
- “There is no process” for a parent to appeal “for-cause” child separation.
- It is unknown whether Customs and Border Protection received any trauma training from HHS on how to care for separated children.
- HHS “does not have the capacity” to reunite children and families, placing that responsibility on DHS.
- “Neither I nor any career person in [HHS’ refugee resettlement office] would ever have supported such a policy proposal,” HHS official Commander Jonathan White told Rep. Brett Guthrie (KY-02).
We know this is a lot to take in. Here is what you can do to help these families and the immigrant community:
Contact your representative and your senator.
Here is the list of bills that you should tell them to support:
- HR 1815, the Protecting Sensitive Locations Act introduced in the House of Representatives
- HR 1608, the ICE and CBP Body Camera Accountability Act, introduced in the House of Representatives
HR 4944, the Reuniting Families Act, introduced in the House of Representatives
- S.3772, the Reunite Every Unaccompanied Newborn Infant, Toddler and other children Expeditiously (Reunite) Act, introduced in the Senate
You can leave a direct comment with the Department of Justice at 202-353-1555. You can also call the Department of Homeland Security at 202-282-8000 and request to leave a comment. They will redirect you. We urge you to make your voice heard as much as you can, as often as you can.
Thank you for taking action! You are creating a better community for everyone.