I spent most of last week and this past weekend feeling physically ill over the news coming out of the U.S.-Mexico border. Nearly 2,000 children separated from their families in April and May 2018. Many of these families are seeking asylum in the United States – which is 100% a legal form of immigration codified in international treaty obligations – but are now being prosecuted for the misdemeanor of entering the country illegally. At the same time, officials are refusing to allow families to cross through valid ports of entry to claim asylum, a violation of international law. There are also reports that the government is separating asylum-seeking families that ARE allowed to present themselves at legal ports of entry so the government can keep the parents in jail-like immigration detention while their asylum cases are adjudicated. Babies. Toddlers in diapers. Hysterical children with no one to comfort them. This is happening to children and families just like mine. To parents just like me. Families seeking asylum, just like my Jewish great grandmother who came to the United States after fleeing war and persecution in Eastern Europe. This goes beyond politics. I cannot sit silently while this is going on, and I hope you will also help in any way that you can – whether that means donating to some of the organizations below, joining a protest in your area, or calling, texting, and writing to your Congressional representatives.
CONTACT YOUR SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVE
One of the most important things you can do right now is contact your Congressional representatives to express your views. There are three important pieces of Congressional legislation that would prevent family separations at the border and provide assistance to unaccompanied or separated minor children in the United States:
- S. 3036 – Keep Families Together Act would prevent the Department of Homeland Security from taking children from their parents at the border and require the Department of Homeland Security to provide parents with information on how to locate a child if separated. Check here to see if your Senators support this bill (under the cosponsors section).
- R. 5950/S.2937 – the HELP Separated Children Act would protect the safety and well-being of minor children who have been left alone and vulnerable after their parents have been arrested or detained by U.S. immigration authorities. Check here to see if your Senators support the Senate version of this bill (under the cosponsors section), and check here to see if your Representative supports the House version.
- R. 2043/S. 2468 – the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2018 would provide unaccompanied minor children with access to legal representation when they appear in removal proceedings before an immigration judge. Because three year olds should not have to represent themselves in court. Check here to see if your Senators support the Senate version of this bill (under the cosponsors section), and check here to see if your Representative supports the House version.
You can look up the address and phone number for your two senators here. You can look up your house representative using your zip code here. When you click on their name, scroll down and you’ll see an address and a phone number for their Washington, DC office. Contacting their DC staff is totally okay, or you can click through to their individual website to find local contact info. You can download these printable Dear Representative/Dear Senator postcards by Allie Hasson right here.
Fun Fact: residents of the District of Columbia, where I live, have no voting representation in Congress! We have no Senators, and only one non-voting House representative, which means DC residents don’t get to have our views represented on any of these important policy issues. So please, if you live in one of the 50 states, contact your Senators and Representative and make your voice heard – because I can’t!
When contacting your senator or representative, it’s best to keep things short and sweet. Make sure to include the name of the city or town where you live so the staff will know you’re actually a constituent – otherwise they may disregard your call or letter completely! – and a brief statement outlining your concerns and what you want them to do.
If your Congressional representatives do not currently support the legislation above, urge them to co-sponsor each bill by name and number (this helps their staff track constituent support for specific legislation). For example: I’m a constituent of [Town/State] and I’m calling/writing to ask that [Sen Name] support S. 3036, the Keep Families Together Act, to stop the separation of immigrant families at the U.S. border. This practice is immoral and unnecessarily harms innocent children. It must be stopped by Congress immediately. I’d also like you to support S. 2937, the HELP Separated Children Act, and S. 2468, the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2018, to provide assistance for unaccompanied minor children in the United States.
If your Congressional representatives do support the legislation, contact them anyway to say thank you! It’s important that Senators and House representatives hear from their constituents on important policy issues so they know they’re heading in the right direction.
BTW – whether you’re writing a letter or making a phone call, there’s an amazing resource called 5Calls.org that determines your representatives based on your zip code, allows you to select your priority issues or bills, and gives you a specific script for that issue. You can definitely add your own text and opinions, but it’s a great starting point!
And if you get phone anxiety and want to get a message to your representatives out quickly, Resistbot is a texting service that will deliver your message for you. Text the word RESIST to 50409 to get started.
There are lots of ways to support the organizations working on these important issues, from donations to volunteering your time in your area. There are a bunch of great organizations listed in this Slate article, but I tried to round up a few that I heard about from multiple sources below, starting with the organizations in Texas:
The Texas Civil Rights Project represents families and their young children separated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the border. They are seeking volunteers who speak Spanish, Mam, Q’eqchi’ or K’iche’ and have paralegal or legal assistant experience to help with intake efforts in McAllen, Brownsville, Laredo, El Paso, and Alpine, Texas. You can also donate to support their efforts here.
RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) works with parents in detention centers in Texas. They have a bond fund to help reunited families and fight their cases from the outside. You can support that bond fund here.
Neta RGV is providing supplies for families waiting to request asylum at legal ports of entry along the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. CBP is claiming they are at capacity and unable to process them, forcing families to stay outside in the South Texas heat for days and weeks. They are seeking donations of supplies such as diapers, wipes, water, and non-perishable food items. Donate and volunteer here.
Here is an Amazon wish list for the Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas. These items go directly to the Sacred Heart Respite Center working with families seeking asylum, including parents seeking to be reunited with their children. You can also send gently used items, including shoes, pants, and shirts to 1721 Beaumont Ave, McAllen, TX 78501
Arizona: The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project is a nonprofit organization providing free legal and social services to women, men, and unaccompanied children in immigration custody in Arizona. The Florence Project seeks volunteers including pro bono lawyers, interpreters, researchers, medical professionals, and administrative assistants. You can e-mail [email protected] for volunteer opportunities and donate here.
Illinois and Wisconsin: The Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants (ICDI Chicago) seeks volunteers for a variety of activities, from observing the proceedings at immigration court to visiting immigrant detention centers in the area, and helping mentor newly arrived immigrants.
Pennsylvania: Aldea – The People’s Justice Center in Reading, Pennsylvania needs volunteer interpreters (especially Spanish and indigenous language speakers), attorneys, and legal assistants for help at the Berks Family Detention center, which currently houses unaccompanied minors and children separated from their families. Sign up to volunteer here.
Washington State: The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project needs volunteer Spanish, Mam, Q’eqchi’ or K’iche’ translators and interpreters for detained immigrant families, including more than 200 parents separated from their children at the border who have been transferred to this area. NWIRP has offices in Granger, Seattle, Tacoma or Wenatchee. If you speak any of these languages and live in the area, you can volunteer here.
JOIN A PROTEST
There have already been some local protests, there are plans for protests outside of ICE detention centers on July 1, and I’m already starting to see rumors on twitter of plans for a larger national protest. The awesome ladies of Ladyfingers Letterpress have kindly offered a free printable poster that you can download right here for all your protesting needs. Thank you ladies!