ACE Hosts Immigration and Reunification Panel

By Karen Berner
Communications Team Leader

 

Stephanie Schweitzer Garza (via Skype on screen), Hunter Wiggins, and Karen Peck at ACE’s October 2018 meeting on Immigration and the Family Reunification at the Texas-Mexico border.

 

On Sunday, October 21, 2018, ACE hosted three speakers who provided updates and insights to the Immigration and Family Reunification Crisis that still continues in this country, particularly along the Texas-Mexico border. This issue strikes at the very core of our country’s values. It’s important to keep an eye on this tragedy because, as ACE Leader Beverly George said, “It reflects the soul of America. Where are we going as a country?”

Stephanie Schweitzer Garza, director of strategic partnerships with the Texas Civil Rights Project, spoke of her dealings particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, six miles from the Texas-Mexico border, where immigrants are being vilified and targeted. She said that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Zero Tolerance Policy in early May, 2018 resulted in increasing the amount of people being prosecuted in Texas courts to 80 and sometimes 90 per day. Schweitzer Garza’s agency began interviewing Guatemalan parents who had been separated from their children on May 22, 2018. It was clear to her that the U.S. government had no plan to reunify these families.

“The U.S. government was doing a horrible job keeping records,” Schweitzer Garza said. “The story needed to be told to build public pressure to end family separation.”

Schweitzer Garza also noted that although family separation has technically ended, families are still being torn apart. Legal guardians, such as grandparents, are routinely separated from their grandchildren.

“The powers that be are dedicated to making an example of these people,” Schweitzer Garza said. “It’s a clear violation of global human rights standards that our country hasn’t seen before.”

After two stints as a federal prosecutor, attorney Hunter Wiggins goes to the Laredo, Texas, detention facility monthly to help asylum seekers and to give “Know Your Rights” presentations.

“We people who care about this issue are losing the battle,” Wiggins told ACE members. “Illegal Immigration is the issue of the day for Republicans.”

Higgins explained there are two types of asylum claims—those made outside the United States (“Will you let me in?”) and those made on U.S. soil (“Please don’t send me back.”) The total number of U.S. asylum claims granted in 2016-2017 was 23,000, which is 12.7 percent of those requested. To put that in perspective, the United States has 330,000 million people. The European Union has a population of 742 million, and they allowed 315,000 people in.

 

“We people who care about this issue are losing the battle,” Wiggins told ACE members. “Illegal Immigration is the issue of the day for Republicans.”

 

Overall, the largest amount of asylum seekers in the U.S. hail from China. Wiggins said nearly 1 in 3 people who receive asylum are Chinese. The next two closest countries are El Salvador with nine percent and Honduras at seven percent.

“Zero tolerance is not something the government has ever done. It wasn’t necessary,” Wiggins said. “It was a decision by the Department of Justice. The decision didn’t have to be made. The policy goal was to separate parents and children.”

Wiggins said the statute of limitations for Improper Entry into the United States is five years, so the government could have chosen to arrest people any time within that five years. Improper Entry is a Class B misdemeanor crime and carries a maximum of six months in jail. Things such as reckless driving, vandalism, movie pirating, and underage drinking all are more serious crimes in the eyes of the law than Illegal Entry, according to Wiggins.

It’s also vastly more expensive to detain asylum seekers, costing $134 per day for individuals and $319 per day for families versus using a GPS monitor and ankle bracelet, which costs $4.50 per day. And don’t worry about people skipping their court dates. Wiggins said 96 percent of those in ICE alternative detention programs have appeared for their final interview.

Then there are the children.

“There were 13,000 children in detention. What happens to unaccompanied minors? They enter the foster care system or are placed with a sponsor,” Wiggins told ACE members. “If you want to be a sponsor, everyone in the house has to be finger printed and retinal scanned.”

There is no right to counsel in immigration hearings, so even children as young as two and three have had to appear before a judge.

“Seven out of 10 kids with lawyers stay in the United States,” Wiggins said. “Nine out of 10 children without lawyers lose.”

Karen Peck, the mom, activist, and writer who started Naperville’s #StandOnEveryCorner, was at a breaking point when she saw toddlers taken from their families, which she equated to child abuse.

“We must always call out hate,” Peck told ACE members. “Stand on Every Corner is a grassroots movement of regular, peaceful, family-friendly protests every night.”

The Naperville location is at Jackson and Webster from 6 to 7 p.m.

“It’s not about blue versus red, but right versus wrong. It’s time to hold elected representatives responsible,” she said.

Why will Peck speak out every single day until the November 6 elections?

“To inspire others to participate in democracy, to educate people on the issues, and to get people to the polls,” Peck said. “I have zero tolerance for hate.”

 

 


ACE  Communications Team Leader Karen Berner has been a professional writer/editor for more than 30 years. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women’s Fiction Writers, Naperville magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women’s fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association.