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In the news

Immigrant Rights Advocates Say Jeff Sessions is ‘Trivializing Domestic Violence’

The attorney general’s decision to bar domestic abuse survivors from obtaining asylum seems out of step with a country engaged in a burgeoning movement against assault, advocates say.

by Massoud Hayoun – June 11, 2018 – Originally published in Pacific Standard

(original article link here: https://psmag.com/social-justice/immigrant-rights-advocates-say-jeff-sessions-is-trivializing-domestic-violence)

Image: Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Immigrant rights advocates were appalled at Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ move this week to block immigration judges from granting domestic abuse and gang violence survivors asylum.

In an interim decision released Monday addressing whether those two classes of asylum claimants could successfully apply for asylum, Sessions wrote that they fail to meet two criteria: “(1) membership in a group, which is composed of members who share a common immutable characteristic, is defined with particularity, and is socially distinct within the society in question; and (2) that membership in the group is a central reason for her persecution.”

Authorities found that, in the case of domestic abuse survivors specifically, “the mere existence of shared circumstances would not turn those possessing such characteristics into a particular social group,” the decision reads.

Immigrant rights advocates were livid, particularly in light of standing allegations of sexual misconduct against President Donald Trump.

“Sessions has taken a morally reprehensible and legally dark turn with this decision,” says Jessica Farb, directing attorney of the Immigration Center for Women and Children advocacy group, one that deals in particular with violence faced by immigrant women and others. “Despite the obligations of the United States under international refugee law and in the face of a #MeToo movement, supporting victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, this administration has shown its distaste for and misunderstanding of survivors of these crimes, especially immigrant survivors.”

Others echoed her outrage.”We are sickened by the administration’s decision to turn their back on asylum seekers who have suffered domestic violence or gang violence,” says Reshma Shamasunder, vice president of program strategy for the Los Angeles bureau of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an advocacy group. “This abandonment of immigrant women and families runs counter to American values and cements a horrible fate for our most vulnerable populations.”


“If [Sessions] were a woman, he wouldn’t be trivializing domestic violence,” says Kevin Solis, the spokesman for the immigrant rights group DREAM Team Los Angeles. “His misogyny is showing.”


For Farb, Sessions is a reflection of an administration led by a man with a controversial track record on women’s rights. “The change in the interpretation of this legal precedent shows Sessions bowing to the will of the commander in chief,” she says.

Other immigrant rights advocates reflected Farb’s view of the White House’s misogyny. “If [Sessions] were a woman, he wouldn’t be trivializing domestic violence,” says Kevin Solis, the spokesman for the immigrant rights group DREAM Team Los Angeles. “His misogyny is showing.”

What’s more, Solis argues that Sessions’ decision strays from the realm of judicial matters and into U.S. immigration policy.

“I am sure there are many crimes his agency isn’t pursuing while he tries to turn the [Department of Justice] into an enforcement arm of Immigration, which it isn’t,” Solis says. “The danger is now many people think Sessions has something to do with immigration and he has nothing to do with it.”

Solis expressed that journalists should ask Sessions “why he’s making these statements when his department does not oversee immigration.”

The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An automatic email insisted that the reporter call the Department of Justice for comment after 6 p.m. Eastern. “Under no circumstances should you include in your story that the Department of Justice did not return a request for comment if you did not call the night duty officer to try and get in touch with a Department spokesperson,” the email read. Pacific Standard called and left a message with Department of Justice staff.

It remains to be seen whether any of the immigrant rights advocates contacted by Pacific Standard would mount a legal challenge to Sessions’ ruling.

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In the news

Amid a Flurry of Immigration Scandals, Activists Stay Focused on the Trump Administration’s Separation of Families

As questions of children left unaccounted for by immigration authorities mount, rights advocates say the Trump administration’s separation of parents and children remains the real issue.

by Massoud Hayoun – May 30, 2018 – Originally published in Pacific Standard

(original article link here: https://psmag.com/social-justice/amid-a-flurry-of-immigration-scandals-activists-stay-focused-on-the-trump-administrations-separation-of-families)

Image: An undocumented woman from Peru holds her one-year-old son at their home in Thornton, Colorado.

(Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

Faced with overlapping controversies over its treatment of undocumented children, the Trump administration attempted this week to walk back previous statements that it had lost track of hundreds of undocumented children formerly in its care. Immigrant rights advocates disagreed about whether the administration should more closely monitor those children’s whereabouts—but they were all unified in their outrage regarding the administration’s ongoing separation of hundreds of migrant children from their parents.

Brandishing the hashtag #WhereAreTheChildren, a groundswell of Twitter users demanded answers over the whereabouts of nearly 1,500 minors who arrived in the United States formerly in government custody. At a Senate committee hearing last month, Steve Wagner, the acting secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, reported that HHS had conducted calls to inquire about the children’s whereabouts following their release from custody, often to relatives—many of whom are themselves undocumented—already living in the U.S. Calls to U.S. resident guardians went unanswered in 1,475 cases.

HHS said on Monday that it is not responsible for those children released from its custody and that the calls went beyond the scope of its duty to the children. “This is a classic example of the adage, ‘No good deed goes unpunished,'” HHS deputy secretary Eric Hargan said in a statement, adding that, despite media reports to the contrary, the children were not lost; phone calls to ascertain their whereabouts had simply gone unanswered.

There was some disagreement over whether HHS was indeed responsible for insuring the children’s well-being after releasing them into a third party’s custody.

Attorney and writer Josie Duffy Rice disagreed with the outpouring of rage over the administration losing track of the undocumented children. “You’re asking immigration authorities in TRUMPS AMERICA to BETTER MONITOR UNDOCUMENTED CHILDREN AND THEIR FAMILIES,” she tweeted in a thread on the topic that went viral. “You don’t want this. I promise you don’t.”

Responding to Duffy Rice, cross-border immigrant advocacy group Al Otro Lado saw things differently, tweeting, “I don’t think the answer is to accept that the agency placing these kids bears no responsibility for what happens to them.”

Al Otro Lado policy and technology director Erika Pinheiro tells Pacific Standard that children often require continued support services, even after they are delivered into the custody of relatives they may have never met. Instead, Pinheiro would like to see the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the HHS unit in charge of minors, given greater independence from Immigration and Customs Enforcement so that the way they interact with the minors and their relatives is not governed by ICE’s deportation-driven agenda.

“ORR is really a network of subcontracted, locally licensed facilities so quality of care can vary,” Pinheiro explains. “The real problem is that, instead of protecting children, they act as an extension of ICE by sharing information about the children, turning them over to ICE custody when they turn 18, and, more recently, allowing ICE to access information about undocumented sponsors. We shouldn’t advocate for ORR to find these kids because that means ICE may harm them and their families. Demanding that ORR stop sharing information with ICE would enable it to do a better job caring for and keeping track of children, but we shouldn’t advocate for them to go find the 1,500 until more protections are in place.”

Both Duffy Rice and Pinheiro believe the solution is greater ORR independence from ICE—and, more broadly, the abolishment of ICE.

Duffy Rice’s tweets pointed out that, amid a barrage of simultaneous controversies over the Trump administration’s treatment of childhood arrivals, many on social and news media appear to be conflating the missing unaccompanied arrivals with the children who arrive in the U.S. with their parents only to be separated from them when their parents are sent to detention facilities. The separated children face what the American Civil Liberties Union described in a report last week as overwhelming neglect and abuse.


“The Trump administration is not the first to engage in family separations of immigrants, but they are the first to openly display a callousness that was hidden in previous administration,” says Kevin Solis, spokesman for immigrant rights group DREAM Team Los Angeles. “Families deserve to be together. That has been the cornerstone of our immigration system since its inception.”


Pacific Standard has followed an ongoing legal battle between the ACLU and the government over its practice of separating what the New York Times has reported to be more than 700 children from their parents. Immigrant rights advocates highlighted the need to remain focused on those separations amid the debate over how best to support the unaccompanied minor arrivals.

“These children should remain with their families and not separated,” says Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights advocacy organization. “As the Trump administration shamelessly tears children from their parents for political purposes, we will see more of this terror take place in the name of the American public.”

Others say that, while the Trump administration is not the first to separate families, it is the first to do so without even the semblance of care for their well-being. “The Trump administration is not the first to engage in family separations of immigrants, but they are the first to openly display a callousness that was hidden in previous administration,” says Kevin Solis, spokesman for immigrant rights group DREAM Team Los Angeles. “Families deserve to be together. That has been the cornerstone of our immigration system since its inception.”

The separations are most urgent, if only in that they reflect the U.S.’s observance of basic human rights, others say. “These families fled hardship in their home countries only to be torn apart and threatened with deportation,” says Reshma Shamasunder, vice president of program strategy for Asian Americans Advancing Justice advocacy group’s Los Angeles bureau. “We as a country must do better. We must demand that the administration value immigrant families instead of terrorizing them.”

Department of Homeland Security officials have denied, in comments to Pacific Standard, that there exists a practice of separating minors from their parents.

“As required by law, DHS must protect the best interests of minor children crossing our borders and occasionally this results in separating children from an adult they are traveling with if we cannot ascertain the parental relationship or if we think the child is otherwise in danger,” Department of Homeland Security press secretary Tyler Q. Houlton wrote in an email earlier this month. “Unfortunately, we have seen many instances where human traffickers have used children to cross the border to gain illegal entry to our country as they know they are unlikely to be detained. This is one of the very loopholes we would like to see Congress end in order to gain operational control of our border.”

Pacific Standard was not able to verify DHS’s claims of a practice of human traffickers using children as an immigration loophole. A woman represented in an ACLU lawsuit against the separations entered the U.S. without the apparent help of a human trafficker, but rather as an asylum seeker—in other words, through the legally sanctioned process of immigration—before she was removed from her child without explanation. No one had questioned her relationship to her child or ability to care for her, the lawsuit reads.

That woman’s child has since been returned to her custody, but hundreds of others remain separated from their families while courts deliberate over what rights advocates call the chief concern in the Trump administration’s treatment of undocumented minors.

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Press Releases

PRESS ANNOUNCEMENT: President Trump, Your SOTU Immigration Proposal is Unacceptable

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 31, 2018
Contact: media@dreamteamla.org

President Trump, Your SOTU Immigration Proposal is Unacceptable

When Democrats caved by reopening the government without securing a permanent DACA fix we knew proposals that followed would be worse. The SOTU speech by President Trump showed us worse. Beyond the items proposed (the wall, ending family based migration, ending the visa lottery) it’s the complete falsehoods Trump uses when talking about immigration issues, willfully misrepresenting current immigration laws to enact stricter, unnecessary enforcement. Conflating it with crime, drugs, and terrorism. DREAM Team LA strongly opposes these measures and are calling on Congress for an immediate halt to these negotiations.

As summed up by DREAM Team LA Jose Lopez;

“If this Trump plan passes it could be 20-30 years to get another vote on immigration. By not voting now we can still come back to the issue in November. There is so much momentum now, the DREAM Act is going to happen. But we can’t put a band-aid on comprehensive immigration reform by addressing only the 1.8 million AND ending legal immigration. We won’t see anything else for years.”

Event Dinners for DACA. Wednesday evening, 1/31/18 – 7:30pm.
DREAM Team LA and host SameSide will call and write congresspeople for a “clean” DREAM Act bill and fight to preserve family unity in our nation’s immigration policies. DTLA spokesperson Karen Zapien will recap her recent lobbying in Washington for a clean Dream Act bill, and SameSide co-founder Nicole àBeckett will lead community impactors in direct action to influence public opinion and policy to ensure families stay together.

Location / Visuals The Standard 24/7 Restaurant
In excess of 40 people dining over a three-course meal while phone calling and writing letters to congresspeople for a permanent DACA. Dialog over immigration issues between citizens and DACA beneficiaries. Presentations by DREAM Team LA and SameSide.

About SameSide
SameSide was founded by brother and sister duo, David Legacki and Nicole àBeckett in Spring 2017 to empower people to participate in fun experiences alongside like-minded, new friends while taking political and social action on the issues that matter to you. Having heard countless friends say, “I want to do more but I don’t know how,” David and Nicole knew there had be a more accessible and exciting way to get others involved in and passionate about issues affecting them and their communities. By combining fun, social good experiences with education, impact and financial gain, SameSides cultivates community around worthy causes and moves the needle in sustained engagement and influencer exposure.

Contact Kevin at media@dreamteamla.org to arrange for interviews. Interviews in English and Spanish.
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