Author Archives: Robin Aubry

I spent a week at the border with families seeking asylum. Here’s what they’re facing. (The Torch)

I spent a week at the border with families seeking asylum. Here’s what they’re facing.

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Hayley Burgess
SEPTEMBER 13, 2019

Last week I was sitting on the floor of a stiflingly hot building in Tijuana with an 18-month-old girl. We were scribbling in a coloring book. She was sprawled on her stomach with a concentrated look on her tiny face, handing each crayon back to me as she finished using it. I was intent on keeping her busy so her mother, sitting in the chair next to us, could absorb the critical information an advocate was sharing with her and other asylum-seekers.

As the toddler tottered to her feet and reached up to grab her mother’s leg, I heard the advocate get to the family separation part of the presentation. The advocate explained to the parents in the room that it’s very likely that their children will be taken away from them when they cross into the U.S. And that right before it’s their turn to cross, they should write their information in Sharpie on their child’s arm in hopes they will be reunited. The parents were encouraged to dress with their warmest clothing closest to their skin, since they likely would be confined in “hieleras” for several days while they await their next step — in many cases, indefinite detention or being returned to extremely dangerous conditions in Mexico to wait for their court dates. As so many alarming reports are now showing, migrant families stranded in Mexico are facing homelessness, kidnapping attempts, assault, and threats of violence from those they are fleeing.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

If you don’t know about hieleras — the cold, concrete rooms where people apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection are held for days with nothing but the layer of clothing closest to their skin — learn the horrifying details here.

The rest of the children, most of them no older than 11, were playing on the other side of the room. My fellow volunteers were keeping them distracted so they could enjoy a few hours of playing freely and to ensure that they weren’t hearing the same scary information their parents were. As most of these children were staying in overcrowded shelters or on the streets of Tijuana, I couldn’t help but think of how rare and important these moments of joy were.

A report released last week on the lasting psychological effect on the children caught in this situation is gut-wrenching. And reading it after spending most of my time last week with families about to navigate through the horrors of our immigration system, connecting these details to the kids I met and spent time with, breaks my heart. “[I] can’t feel my heart,” some children are saying. Or: “I can hear my heart beat.”

There are so many other moments that will stay with me. The time another young mother, also of an infant, asked us if U.S. immigration officials will take good care of her baby when the baby is taken away from her. Or if she’ll ever see her again. And we couldn’t in good conscience give her a comforting answer. The time I was at the nearby port of entry early one morning and watched a young girl hug her dad goodbye before she and her mother crossed without him. Or when I gripped another young mother’s hand and wished her luck before she and her family were hurried toward the vans taking that day’s small allotment of asylum-seekers towards the U.S. side of the border.

The parents I spoke with during my time there are brave, kind, and resilient. Most were fleeing some kind of government persecution, extortion, organized violence from cartels, or other significant threats to their family’s safety and had endured harrowing journeys to get as far as the border. Not only should their courage and sacrifice for their families be honored, but their legal right to seek asylum must be upheld. Instead, our government is tormenting them and their children.

The Trump administration has taken extraordinary steps to dismantle our asylum system. Despite the great work by so many to fight back, the damage has been substantial and will likely only get worse. Just this week, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the administration to enforce a policy that makes it nearly impossible for these families to exercise their legal right to make their asylum cases while litigation challenging the policy continues. The consequences will be dire.

The right to seek asylum literally means life or death for these families. And yet our government punishes them and makes each step more miserable and dehumanizing than the last. Our system is being intentionally reconfigured to make life as difficult as possible for those seeking safety within our borders. It’s an ugly reality that we all must confront and work tirelessly to dismantle.

Al Otro Lado is one of the many crucial organizations both fighting these cruel policies and working to support asylum-seekers so they know their rights within what has become, under the Trump administration, a more cruel and complicated process. I encourage you all to learn more about what they’re doing and support them in their critical work.


Hayley Burgess is NILC’s media relations associate.

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HUD’s “Mixed-Status” Rule Is the Latest Attack on the Immigrant Community (The Torch)

HUD’s “Mixed-Status” Rule Is the Latest Attack on the Immigrant Community

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Milicent Sasu
JULY 8, 2019

From family separations at the border to a proposed “public charge” rule that would punish immigrant families for using health, housing, and nutrition programs, the Trump administration has been issuing policies that strike fear within communities to fulfill its anti-immigrant agenda. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) proposed changes to low-income housing eligibility, which have not yet been implemented, are the most recent in the long string of attacks on the immigrant community.

On May 10, 2019, HUD published a proposed rule that would bar “mixed-status” families from residing in public housing and using Section 8 programs. Mixed-status families are households where member(s) who are eligible for public housing assistance live with member(s) who are ineligible for housing assistance due to their immigration status. If this rule is implemented, HUD will also require all household members under age 62 to have their immigration status screened and would change the citizenship and immigration verification requirements for U.S. citizens and noncitizens over age 62.

Under this proposed rule, mixed-status households would have to make the impossible choice between tearing their families apart or being evicted from their homes within 18 months. HUD falsely claims the proposed rule is necessary to prevent undocumented immigrants from utilizing federal housing assistance. Yet under current rules, ineligible immigrants do not receive subsidies and housing assistance is prorated so that only eligible family members receive benefits.

Ultimately, this is another “family separation policy” and scare tactic from the Trump administration intended to spread fear in communities. This newly-proposed rule is ruthless and fails to take into consideration the detrimental impacts the proposed rule will have on families and communities across the nation.

If HUD’s proposed rule is implemented, nearly 108,000 people will be at risk of being evicted and displaced. Approximately 55,000 are children at risk of being displaced and subject to homelessness, including U.S. citizens and legal residents. In addition, children may face separation from family members who are ineligible for public housing assistance and are evicted. HUD has acknowledged that “fear of the family being separated would lead to a prompt evacuation by most mixed households.” This rule leaves families with the unbearable decision of whether to stay together and face homelessness or be separated from one another.

This proposal and the ongoing attacks against immigrants will only increase the “chilling effect” in immigrant communities, resulting in immigrants avoiding or disenrolling themselves from programs that make their families healthy and strong, even if they are not technically impacted by policy proposals or those proposals have not yet been approved. Further, the proposed rule only worsens the nation’s affordable housing crisis. According to HUD’s own estimates, this proposed rule will reduce the “quantity and quality of assisted housing” in the United States.

HUD is currently accepting public comments on the proposed rule until July 9, 2019. During this public comment period, individuals are encouraged to submit comments that share their unique stories about how the rule could impact them, their loved ones, and their community. No family should be at risk of being displaced from their homes due to their immigration status, nor should members of a household have to decide between keeping their family together or losing their home. As a country, we must combat Trump’s racist agenda, which includes the HUD mixed-status rule, and use our voices during this comment period to stand up for those who are silenced.

For more information regarding the HUD rule or ways on how you can make an impact and submit a comment, go to www.keep-families-together.org.


Millicent Sasu is NILC’s Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign intern.

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