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Perhaps we were all wrong about President Trump? Maybe he does listen to the women in his life? Current reports suggest that the President’s own wife and daughter, Melania and Ivanka Trump, were the impetus behind the President’s executive order to end the separation of families at our southern border. I guess the fact that all four living former First Ladies condemned President Trump’s border policy was not enough. Quite frankly, I think we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the brilliant journalists at all the Fake News organizations across the country who reported on the inhumanity we all saw as families were torn apart from each other as they tried to apply for political asylum in the United States.
Let’s back track a little bit though, because this crisis is far from over.
I recently noted the profound changes that happen in the world of immigration, literally on a daily basis. Two more cases in point. Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued the precedent decision of Matter of A-B-. This case held that victims of domestic violence no longer qualify for asylum protection in the United States. Since President Trump was inaugurated, the Attorney General has used his position to literally rewrite our immigration law. Through what has been a historically cautiously-used power, the Attorney General has taken certain immigration cases that were previously decided by the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”), and in this case, has essentially eliminated a previous right of persecuted people to seek asylum in the United States.
And then of course there was President Trump’s now former border policy of separating families from each other as they endeavor to seek refuge in the United States from domestic and gang violence in their home countries.
With respect to Matter of A-B-, in a case he referred to himself, Attorney General Sessions narrowed the criteria for demonstrating membership in a particular social group and overruled the holding of Matter of A-R-C-G-. According to the Attorney General, domestic violence victims and other victims of crimes perpetrated by private, non-government actors no longer generally qualify for asylum. With this decision, the Attorney General continues to undermine the independence of both our Immigration Courts and the BIA.
The Attorney General’s decision in Matter of A-B- is a huge setback that overturns a precedential decision which firmly recognized the right of women who are fleeing domestic violence to avail themselves of the protection our asylum laws provide when their own governments fail in their duty to provide protection.
So now we’ve got women and families who have to make a choice. If they remain in their home countries, they may very well die as a result of domestic and gang violence. If they pick up and try to seek refuge in the United States, they now face an incredible uphill battle to obtain protection under our laws. And worse, if parents bring their minor children with them, they’ll be detained, albeit perhaps now together, potentially all throughout their lawful efforts to remain in the United States.
Along with his wife, daughter and the former First Ladies, literally everyone was opposed to Trump’s policy of separating or detaining families with minor children, including corporate executives, religious leaders across all faiths, health experts, and the list could go on and on. Similarly, there is a very long list of attorneys, advocates, retired immigration judges (“IJ’s”) and former members of the BIA that are opposed to Attorney General Sessions’ new decision in Matter of A-B-.
To date, the President’s border crossing policy has separated more than 2,300 minor children from their parents. The research is clear. According to Charles Nelson, a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School, “[t[he effect [of family separation] is catastrophic.” According to Dr. Nelson, the children’s heart rates go up, their bodies releases stress hormones, and over time, all of this wreaks long-term damage, both psychologically and to the physical structure of the child’s brain. Why on earth would the President want to do this?
As to the difficulty that women who have suffered domestic violence will now face trying to seek protection under our laws, in one fell swoop, the Attorney General erased a 15 year effort of the immigration courts and BIA to finally recognize that victims of domestic violence may qualify for asylum as a member of a particular social group.
The Trump Administration’s policies are doing nothing more than dehumanizing a large population of individuals who live in Central America, and specifically women and families who are subject to domestic or gang violence. When will this President stop the madness?
 Matter of A-B-, 27 I&N Dec. 316 (A.G. 2018).
 Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388 (BIA 2014).
Have you seen the news recently? The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced new efforts that will result in the forcible separation of families seeking protection in the United States under established U.S. law. Not only that, the Trump Administration announced that it will increase criminal prosecutions of parents attempting to enter the United States illegally, even those seeking political asylum in the United States, in its effort to tighten immigration enforcement.
In a recent speech, Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated that going forward, the United States would have a zero tolerance policy, suggesting that anyone crossing the border unlawfully into the United States will now be prosecuted. Even those seeking asylum in the United States. I quote:
“If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring him across the border illegally.”
It is a bit ironic that on the very day First Lady Melania Trump made a public statement about cherishing and protecting children, the Attorney General was talking about U.S. policy of separating parents from children for immigrant families seeking asylum status in the United States. That’s right, when Melania Trump said that “children deserve every opportunity to enjoy their innocence”, Attorney General Sessions declared that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) will arrest parents, and thereafter separate them from their children.
With then candidate Trump putting immigration front and center in the 2016 election, and now President Trump doing the same ahead of this year’s midterm elections, I suppose no one should be surprised by any of this.
Does that mean if a family presents themselves at a proper border crossing point and applies for political asylum, seeking protection from unfettered criminal violence in their home country, that they won’t be prosecuted or separated?
Individuals who arrive at the our border, without proper documentation, are often subject to fast-track deportation processes called “expedited removal” or, in some cases, “reinstatement of removal” (if they’ve been removed from the United States previously). In each instance, however, the law requires that these individuals receive a preliminary screening interview with a U.S. asylum officer if they express a fear of persecution if they were returned to their country of origin.
Over the past several years, however, federal law enforcement officials have been very vigorous in prosecuting migrants for entering the United States without permission or for reentering the country without permission after a prior deportation or removal order. Indeed, tens of thousands of individuals are subjected to criminal prosecution for these crimes every year. I understand this. We are a nation of laws.
However, the United States is a signatory to the 1951 Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which is supposed to prevent nations from penalizing individuals requesting protection from persecution or torture in their country of origin. In 2015, the Department of Homeland Security’s own Inspector General noted that prosecuting those “who express fear of persecution or return to their home countries” may be inconsistent with and may violate U.S. treaty obligations.
According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 700 children have been taken from adults claiming to be their parents since October, 2017, including more than 100 children under the age of 4. The Office of Refugee Resettlement takes custody of children who have been removed from migrant parents. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in February to challenge the practice of family separation.
We need to find the proper balance of appropriately and humanely enforcing our immigration laws, protecting individuals from being returned to their home country, and preventing families from being forcibly separated while the U.S. immigration process plays itself out. Right now, all this new policy is doing is making criminals of people who are simply seeking refuge from violence in their home country, and separating already stressed families, including very young and vulnerable children. This is unacceptable.