In a huge win for asylum-seeking families separated from their children at the border, the Trump administration has agreed to give some families a second chance at gaining asylum. The decision came on the night of September 12 as a result of three separate court cases challenging the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy that heartbreakingly separated more than 2,500 children from their mothers and fathers.
The legal advocates said that many immigrant parents whose children were torn from their arms and sent to detention facilities far away, with no plan to locate and return them, were too traumatized to pass the asylum interview process determining whether they have “credible fear” of returning to their countries.
When you look behind the walls of the detention centers, you can see that the asylum application process for these families, most of whom are fleeing horrific violence in Central America, is a travesty of justice and a violation of human rights.
In interviews conducted by the American Immigration Council, one Honduran mother said that after her 9-year-old daughter was taken from her, the detention officer “told me to sign deportation papers, and I said no because I was afraid to return to my country. The immigration officer threatened me and told me that I would never see my child again because she was going to be adopted.”
The woman saw a judge who told her she would be reunited with her daughter that night. It wasn’t true. The trauma made her sick and gave her chest pains. She became desperate – crying, trembling and barely able to breathe.
“When we asked the guards for our kids,” she said, “they said it would be better if we never saw them again and that we should not try to seek asylum and should just go back to our countries alone. Some of the guards continued to say they knew nothing about where our kids were, while others told us they had already been adopted.”
I just repeated over and over that I wanted to be with my daughter. I started to cry so much I could not speak any longer. [The asylum officer] finally said that my interview was over.
For weeks, she was told nothing about her daughter’s whereabouts. She wrote six letters to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but they gave her no information. She didn’t have money to make calls in the detention facility, so she worked as a cleaner for five days, seven hours each day, and was given a grand total of $1, which she used to make a one-minute phone call to her mother.
When she did meet with the asylum officer, she wasn’t even told that it was her credible fear interview. “The asylum officer asked if I wanted to continue the process or be deported,” she recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t want anything. I just want my daughter. Please give me my daughter.’ I just repeated over and over that I wanted to be with my daughter. He asked me about my case. He seemed angry, which made it even harder to focus on my case… The asylum officer constantly raised his voice, and spoke in an impolite way. I started to cry so much I could not speak any longer… He finally said that my interview was over. He… said that I did not qualify for asylum and would be deported immediately.”
That is how people fleeing violence seek asylum in the land of the free and the home of the brave, under this administration’s cruel policies. That is part of this administration’s plan to “make America great again.”
It is also alleged that parents were coerced into signing away their right to be reunified with their children or forced to agree to deportation, even if they wanted to apply for asylum. In a survey conducted by the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, 51 of 76 mothers surveyed reported that officers had coerced them. Twenty-five mothers said officers screamed at them, 13 said they were threatened with punishment, and 23 said ICE officers threatened to take away their children forever if they did not sign the papers.
As part of the court settlement this week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agreed to give a new credible fear interview to any parent who was separated from their child. If the child has an independent asylum claim, they will also be given another interview. Advocates estimate that more than 1,000 parents could be granted a new interview. It is also possible that some parents already deported could be able to return to the U.S. to conduct the interview, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought forth one of the lawsuits.