Family values don’t stop at the border

Photo by Reynaldo Leal

Family unity is enshrined in international law, and the United States has protected this fundamental human right for decades. But we seem to have gone astray as the Trump administration separates immigrant children from their parents — a tactic employed to deter asylum seekers while at the same time creating leverage to fund a border wall in Congress.

Our priests, our advocates, our international institutions and partners abroad remind us of the need to protect the family and bring our nation back in line with conscience, the Constitution and humanity before it is too late.

From May 5 to June 9, 2018, 2,342 children were separated from 2,206 adults and placed in detention facilities. To deal with this self-created crisis, the administration has opened a tent camp in Tornillo to house these young children. The recently signed executive order does absolutely nothing to reunite these children with their families. In fact, it opens the door to indefinitely detaining children. The resources needed to undo this crisis are mind-boggling, and the administration has reiterated that it is more committed to detaining immigrants than to uniting families.

Last week, I visited two detention facilities in Brownsville — Casa Padre and Casa Presidente — where immigrant children who have been separated from their parents are being housed. One boy there, Roger, was 8 months old. This past weekend, I inspected the tent camps in Tornillo with colleagues from the House and Senate to see the conditions in which these children were being housed.

It is important to see firsthand the brutal effects this policy has on these children, and the spartan conditions we observed will undoubtedly leave psychological and physical footprints on them. It’s also important that we hold the administration accountable until every last one of these children has been reunited with their parents.

Such family separation along the border also mirrors actions throughout our nation’s interior. Too many families are being split apart by ramped-up deportations and the end of discretionary immigration enforcement policies. Community members are being arrested at their jobs, schools, courthouses, hospitals and even churches, leaving families in disarray and shredding the hope of the American Dream.

These policies stain our nation’s moral conscious. This is not the America our founding fathers envisioned, and this is not what I want our country to be moving forward. I’m encouraged to see Americans speak up against this abhorrent policy in every corner of the country, but we must do more.

The Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) cities network provides guidance and representation to those facing deportation in San Antonio and dozens of other localities in Texas. Many clients of this program are long-time San Antonians who have been living in the United States for years.

While SAFE’s legal defense approach does not determine the eventual outcome, it helps people navigate the complexities of immigration law so they can have a fair day in court and increase their odds of staying home with the ones they love.

This local legal defense effort is not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.

According to U.S. Census data, more than 82,000 San Antonio’s minors are U.S. citizens with at least one foreign-born parent. This reminds us that the city’s future vitality and competitiveness are inextricably linked to issues of family unity and sensible immigration policies.

During less than a year of operation, the legal defense program served nearly three dozen local clients who have longstanding ties and deep roots in San Antonio. These clients have lived in the United States for an average of two decades.

This includes local fathers such as “Joseph,” who has a wife and six U.S.-born children. After conducting a thorough investigation of his case, his attorney discovered that Joseph was, in fact, eligible for a green card. He ultimately won his case and was released after a year in detention to reunite with his family.

And just three months after celebrating the birth of his second child, “Alejandro” was arrested by ICE after being pulled over for speeding. Through the efforts of the legal defense program, Alejandro was recently released from detention and reunited with his wife, son, and newborn baby as he defends his right to remain in the country lawfully.

As a matter of public policy and basic humanity, we should keep these parents with their children. This policy has taken us down a road where we have lost our moral compass. If the United States is to represent freedom and dignity, we must treat people like human beings. If we want to stand as a moral beacon, we must reunite these families and put a stop to this policy. This means continuing to speak out against such injustice, advancing sensible policies including legal defense programs and showing compassion for those currently separated from their families under this brutal “zero tolerance” policy. 

As Americans, we must use our voices to protect our nation’s future and put families above political games.

Joaquin Castro

U.S. Representative, D-San Antonio