Javier, a father recently reunited with his child, said, “I was separated from my son who is seven years old, and I didn’t know anything about him. We were apart for more than two months, but I am thankful to God and the wonderful people who in one way or another publicly demonstrated for family reunification. We are now in the USA but this is not yet over because in my case I have a deportation order and I don’t know what can happen.”
Under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, thousands of children have been ripped from their parents’ arms. Though hundreds of children are still separated from their parents, many families have now been reunited. But the status of these recently reunited families in the U.S. remains uncertain, leading them to face a myriad of challenges in other areas. In response, the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) has partnered with Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) to work with over 100 recently reunited families to help them secure legal representation and to address their questions about the asylum, education, and transportation systems they must navigate.
Many families struggle to travel great distances to meet government obligations and access competent immigration counsel, despite the families’ lack of driver’s licenses, cars, and public transportation. Families regularly have ICE check-ins more than two hours from their homes. And the government schedules many immigration court hearings hundreds of miles away in the wrong state, requiring families to navigate the complicated process transferring their cases to the immigration court closest to their home. In an effort to address these transportation barriers and prevent in absentia deportation orders, ASAP is helping families to move their asylum cases closer to home to avoid missing upcoming hearings in immigration court.
ASAP is also working to ensure families have a fair chance at their preliminary asylum interviews. Many parents failed their initial asylum interviews due to the shock of being separated from their children, but thanks to a recent settlement that was reached in a lawsuit filed by Legal Aid Justice Center and Muslim Advocates, the government must provide a second interview to these families under less traumatic circumstances. ASAP is working to inform families of this right so they are not deported due to a faulty interview.
We have also spoken with countless families who are struggling to navigate a complicated education system. Parents are inundated with strict paperwork and vaccine requirements that prevent many from enrolling their children in school. Without health insurance, parents and children must spend hours locating free health clinics and waiting in line for vaccines, in addition to other hurdles.
The totality of these barriers make the asylum process incredibly difficult for asylum seekers to navigate. But the stakes are high. The government’s use of in absentia removal orders means that an asylum seeker can be deported solely for not being able to attend their immigration court hearing. And as ASAP has shown, the government often fails to notify asylum seekers of their upcoming hearing dates, and provides little-to-no information about how to fight their cases.
For asylum-seeking families, access to legal information can mean the difference between obtaining legal status and facing deportation. ASAP is working hard to ensure that recently reunited families have the tools they need to fight their cases. While the current administration has shown blatant disregard for the lives of asylum seekers, ASAP will continue fighting for families every step of the way.