By Linda Corchado
In just a few weeks, advocates hope that one of the most significant policies used to undermine asylum will end for good. On May 11, the end of the public health emergency will also terminate Title 42 orders, a COVID-19 era policy that has shut the door to asylum seekers for the past several years by falsely claiming they pose a public health threat during the pandemic.
More than 2.5 million migrants have been expelled.
Since children who arrive at the border alone are exempt from the policy, Title 42 has put parents in the heartbreaking position of deciding between remaining with their children in unsafe conditions so that their family can stay together or separating from their child in the hopes they’ll be able to enter the United States alone to seek safety.
Title 42 is a man-made crisis that will create a bottleneck effect at our ports of entry upon its termination.
In my conversations with Lorey Gonzalez-Flores at El Paso County’s Office of New Americans, I learned the county’s Migrant Support Services Center is in communication with immigration law enforcement officials daily to coordinate arrivals and is expanding its capacity to facilitate self-pay travel needs of migrants to reach their destination in the United States.
This type of coordination and response has not always been the case. Ruben Garcia at Annunciation House was often the sole service provider ensuring that migrants had the means to reach their final destinations. The crisis has forced innovation that advocates hope will create a new model for welcoming at the border.
Communities like El Paso are getting it right, but the question is whether our national government will follow suit. The issue is how immigration officials can expedite the process and bring a resolution to asylum claims quickly to avoid undue burden on receiving communities and institutions like our broken immigration court system. Both Democrats and Republicans believe expeditiousness is key.
In a recent report released by First Focus on Children and the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights titled Fast Not Fair: How Expedited Processes Harm Immigrant Children Seeking Protection, co-authors Miriam Abaya and Jane Liu document the harmful history of expedited immigration processes, including those that give children and families a short period of time to make their claim for protection from persecution, violence, trafficking and other danger.
As the report notes, expedited processes fail to consider how children’s development stages, trauma they’ve experienced, and lack of legal representation, impact how effectively their case can be presented to immigration officials. Under expedited processes, adults, families, and children are kept at a disadvantage and are fast-tracked for deportation.
Furthermore, reports state that the Department of Homeland Security will conduct fast-track asylum screenings in Customs and Border Protection custody within days of asylum seekers’ arrival to the United States, an approach used by the Trump administration that led to mass due process violations and deportation.
I documented these harms in 2019 in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, noting that access to medical care was abysmal for families in CBP custody and many mothers including indigenous women were experiencing acute emotional distress.
They were in desperate need of legal counsel to present their claims for asylum while their children were unable to sleep, had inadequate medical care and were exposed to harsh detention like facilities. Many cases that could have won in court, lost, most mothers I spoke to could hardly hear me over the deafening cries of their children as they spoke to me from tiny phone booths in detention.
I cannot recall one conversation with a parent that didn’t include the long, forlorn siren sound of their children’s cries.
The interests of immigrant children sadly, are silenced. Children aren’t forming protests; they’re not speaking to reporters or denouncing harm to government officials as they contemplate reinstating family detention or implementing a revamped asylum ban that will strengthen restrictions on asylum under expedited timeframes that, by design, set them up for failure.
That’s why the voice of the silent should be the one we tune into and defend.
“Fast Not Fair” highlights the need for elected officials in both parties to work together to depoliticize the lives of immigrant children, who are often at the crossfires of dangerous policies that null their best interests.
We should not build a high-stakes “expeditious” process but one the El Paso County government is creating, a process that empowers migrants to reach their families and support networks across the country. A process that would support community organizations and government agencies to include wrap-around services to welcome newcomer immigrants to our schools and to our workforce.
While the work starts at the border, it ends with us.
Linda Corchado of El Paso is director of the Children’s Immigration Network at Children at Risk, a research and advocacy nonprofit focused on improving the quality of life for Texas’ children.