Guest Columnist

Family separation and detention: Violating the Constitution

Thousands march through downtown Minneapolis on Saturday, June 30, 2018, to demonstrate against the Trump administration's immigration policies. (Aaron Lavinsky/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)
Thousands march through downtown Minneapolis on Saturday, June 30, 2018, to demonstrate against the Trump administration's immigration policies. (Aaron Lavinsky/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

We, the people of the United States, immigrants and descendants of immigrants, denounce the separation and detention of immigrant families by our government. President Donald Trump’s policies separate families through ICE workplace raids, the deportation of longtime U.S. residents with citizen children and the termination of programs, such as Temporary Protected Status and DACA. Simple misdemeanors like public intoxication, trespassing, loitering or possession of marijuana detain and separate immigrants from their families.

President Donald Trump’s policies and enforcement through ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seek to detain immigrant families, including children, in immigrant jails for weeks, months or even years. Detaining immigrant families with children is wrong. It was wrong for President George W. Bush to do it. It was wrong for President Barack Obama to do it. And it is wrong for Trump, Kirstjen Nielsen and Jeff Sessions to do it.

These practices corrupt our union, establish injustice, ensure domestic chaos, weaken the common defense, demote the general welfare and endanger the blessings of liberty for many in this country and their children. All people in the United States, no matter their legal status, deserve equal protection under the law. All people in the United States, authorized or unauthorized, cannot be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law. Immigrants charged with criminal offenses should have rights to a speedy, public, jury trial and the right to legal counsel, including pro bono lawyers, if necessary.

Our immigration enforcement system needs drastic reform. Detaining children in immigration jails, with or without their parents, is wrong. ICE raids of immigrant homes and property without a warrant violate the Fourth Amendment. Immigrants regularly are deprived of life, liberty and property in violation of the Fifth Amendment. Immigrants have died in ICE and CBP custody. Many wait years for a trial and have no guarantee of a lawyer in violation of the Sixth Amendment.

Asylum applicants may be approved or denied solely based on which immigration court hears their case. In 2015, immigrant defendants in Lumpkin, Ga., had less than a 2 percent chance of winning their case. The same year, immigrant defendants in Philadelphia and San Francisco had a 50 percent chance of winning their case. Differing outcomes based solely on geographic location, violates the equal protection of migrants under the law. According to the ACLU and other independent reports, Customs and Border Protection agents routinely abuse migrant detainees, including children, denying them medical care, sexually assaulting them, physically threatening them and racially insulting them. Such punishments are cruel and unusual in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

The immigration court system is backlogged with over 700,000 pending cases. The system needs hundreds of additional immigration judges to deal with the bottleneck. Until the United States government works with Latin American countries to address conditions in those countries pushing those migrants to come, no wall, no threat, will keep them out of the U.S. Until the U.S. holds employers, not migrant workers, accountable for hiring undocumented immigrants, they will continue to come. Until we fix our broken immigration system that separates families and deprives individuals of their constitutional rights, these injustices and violations of the Constitution will continue. Until we move the Immigration Court System from the executive branch to the judicial branch, the fate of migrants rests on the whims and mood of the president and attorney general. Until the Department of Homeland Security, ICE and CBP are held accountable by an independent oversight committee, the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of migrants will continue. We, the people, demand our elected officials right these wrongs. If they refuse, we, the people, will vote them out of office.

Some may say Trump ended the separation of families so we should be satisfied. Trump’s immigration policies still separate families. Our government forbids many of those parents from reuniting with their children until they give up their asylum claims and agree to be deported. And if the courts do not allow detention of children with their parents beyond the 20 days permitted by law, Trump may again separate children from their parents. We are not satisfied.

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When will immigrant rights advocates be satisfied? In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., we never be satisfied as long as immigrant children remain detained in immigration jails. We can never be satisfied as long as ICE conducts unreasonable searches and seizures of the homes of immigrants without a warrant. We cannot be satisfied as long as our government deprives immigrants of life, liberty and property without due process of law.

We can never be satisfied as long as immigrants remain in jail for years without a trial. We will never be satisfied until the government provides a lawyer for every immigrant who cannot afford one. We will not be satisfied until immigrant defendants in Lumpkin, Ga., and Atlanta have the same chance to gain asylum as immigrant defendants in Philadelphia and San Francisco. We will not be satisfied until the Immigration Court System is removed from the executive branch and made independent under the judicial branch. We never will be satisfied until every migrant receives equal protection under the law and is treated with the dignity and worth due every person.

• Caleb Gates works for the Catherine McAuley Center as a refugee case manager and advocacy specialist.

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