By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Photographs of children being held in US immigrant detentions centers…. Stories of the forced separation of children from their parents entering the US illegally…. Trump supporters say that these policies were already in place under the Obama Administration. What’s really happening?
Human Rights Institute
For the past 22 years, the Human Rights Institute of St Thomas University School of Law has been providing free services to immigrants to the United States who cannot afford legal services. Their services include obtaining residency, court representation, work permit applications, and any other services needed by immigrants living in 3 South Florida Counties.
Christine Reis has been directly involved with the legal services offered to immigrants through the Human Rights Institute. She spoke with Sr Bernadette Reis in an interview with Vatican News explaining recent changes in the US’ immigration policy.
Last year, funding from the US government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement was cut by 40%. One county lost 62% of its funding. These cuts mean that the Institute can provide legal assistance to a fewer number of immigrants.
Separating families – Past
Ms Reis explained that the policy allowing the separation of immigrant families did exist prior to the Trump Administration. However, actual separation occurred generally only in cases where one of the parents was suspected of another crime, such as drug trafficking. If a family seeking asylum convinced an officer that there was a “credible fear” allowing them to seek asylum, the family would be left intact. In this case, the majority of families would not be detained. In cases where the family was detained, the maximum period of detention was “about 20 days when there was a child involved”, Ms Reis explained.
Some photos have surfaced showing children “detained” under the Obama Administration. Ms Reis explained that when children were unaccompanied by parents they “would be detained until they could be transported over to the other governmental agency that would actually process the kids as residents of the United States”.
Separating families – Present
The difference between the application of the separation policy is Trump’s Zero Tolerance policy, Ms Reis explained. “Today, what we have under Trump, is a mandatory, everybody has to be detained, everybody has to be separated”. There is no reason why the policy had to change, Ms Reis says. “There was no discretion. Decisions were made very quickly with not enough thought”.
To be continued….