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AC: The short of it is, we will take sample sizes of numbers and individuals we’re seeing that are being prosecuted for criminal entry.The majority of those are free to return to the home country. We can’t quite know exactly because our sample size is between one hundred and two hundred individuals.And what happens to your child isn’t really our concern. We can’t process your case.” So the families go illegally on a raft—I don’t want to say illegally; they cross without a visa on a raft. There are organizations like Al Otro Lado that document border turn-backs. TM: What was happening on the bridge at that point? When I was in Mc Allen, the individuals that day who visited people on the bridge had been there four days. Of those, the children seemed to be all five and older.That is, you have made the choice to bring your child over illegally. Many of them then look for Border Patrol to turn themselves in, because they know they’re going to ask for asylum. And there’s an effort to accompany asylum seekers so that Customs and Border Patrol can’t say, “We’re closed.” Everybody we’ve talked to who’s been prosecuted or separated has crossed the river without a visa. AC: I talked to a lot of people who were there Saturdays and Sundays, a lot of church groups that are going, bringing those individuals umbrellas because they were in the sun. We’re talking infants; there were people breastfeeding on the bridge. What we know from the shelters and working with people is that, yes, there are kids that are very young, that are breastfeeding babies and under three in the shelters, separated from their parents.But our administration is kind of ignoring this longstanding international and national jurisprudence of basic beliefs to make this distinction that, if you come to a bridge, we’re not going to prosecute you, but if you come over the river and then find immigration or are caught by immigration, we’re prosecuting you. AC: The zero-tolerance policy really started with Jeff Sessions’s announcement in May.
TM: Can you take me through what you’ve been seeing?
And we may see more parents that get out of jail because they pass a “credible fear” interview, which is the screening done by the asylum office to see who should be deported quickly, within days or weeks of arrival, and who should stay here and have an opportunity to present their asylum case before an immigration judge of the Department of Justice.
So we have a lot of individuals who are in that credible fear process right now, but in Houston, once you have a credible fear interview (which will sometimes take two to three weeks to even set up), those results aren’t coming out for four to six weeks.
And under this government theory—you know, in the past, we’ve had international treaties, right? It’s morning shade, and then the sun—you know, it’s like 100 degrees on the cement. So there were groups bringing diapers and water bottles and umbrellas and electric fans, and now everyone’s freaked out because they’re gone! But I’m just saying, in my experience, all those kids and all the parents’ stories were five and up.
Statutes which codified the right of asylum seekers to ask for asylum. Article 31 of the Refugee Convention clearly says that it is improper for any state to use criminal laws that could deter asylum seekers as long as that asylum seeker is asking for asylum within a reasonable amount of time. TM: Can you talk about how you’ve seen the process change over the past few months?
Some volunteers try to help the kids navigate the system. As executive director of the Houston office of the nonprofit Tahirih Justice Center, which focuses on helping immigrant women and children, she has been traveling to the border and to detention centers, listening to the parents’ stories.