Over the last few months, we have been collectively appalled. We watched as the administration put into effect its “zero-tolerance” policy, prosecuting any and all individuals for crossing into the United States, even if fleeing for their lives. We watched as it separated families, jailing or deporting parents while shipping the children to far away shelters, some still all alone in the system. We watched as the Attorney General issued a decision with the intent of preventing women fleeing domestic violence from receiving life-saving protection. We watched as our President built not a wall of bricks, but a wall of policies to keep asylum seekers from accessing safety.
It’s exhausting. It’s demoralizing. It forces me to question how we can possibly keep up when the essence of our humanity is being challenged every single day.
But then I look around me and I see how Tahirih staff, my sisters and brothers in justice, are standing up and fighting. I witness their tremendous dedication and fearless advocacy, their unwavering determination and absolute refusal to accept the status quo.
Like Morgan, the executive director of Tahirih’s San Francisco Bay Area office, who flew to South Texas and spent several days observing how asylum seekers were being treated. In a tiny visitation room at Port Isabel Detention Center, she listened to individuals dressed in prison jumpsuits as they described disappearing relatives, unlawful detentions, and near death beatings in their home countries. She “saw scars from violence like bullet wounds, scars that made it impossible to stay, but also impossible to forget. Over and over, [she] heard from weeping mothers and fathers. All they wanted was their children back.” Eager to put her experience into words, Morgan poured her impressions into an article in The Atlantic that she hopes will elevate the logistical and legal nightmares created by family separation.
Like Shana, the executive director of Tahirih’s Atlanta office, who joined Morgan on that trip and spent her flight home writing about what it’s like to be a mother visiting with separated families at the border. She recounted to me her conversation with Alicia, “a woman from Honduras who, after campaigning for her uncle’s Mayoral race, was violently retaliated against by a local gang that claimed her 15-year old daughter as their property, raping her on her way to school. Knowing her 9-year old daughter might soon face this same fate, Alicia fled for U.S. soil.” Determined to share her outrage of the current family separation crisis, including rampant violations of due process, disregard for the mental health and well-being of children, and overall dismissal of the rights of asylum-seekers under international human rights law, Shana expressed her deep concerns with media and the broader legal community.
Like Anne, the executive director of Tahirih’s Houston office, who, along with other members of her team, has visited the border multiple times, “sitting in courtrooms at 7:30 in the morning as parents arrived in shackles from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station, facing a federal judge on the charge of ‘illegal entry.’ One mother, who had never previously been away from her five year old, explained how the girl was screaming and vomiting as she was taken away. The mother plead with the U.S. official to be given a moment to comfort her daughter. The answer was no.” Questioning this very dark moment in our nation’s history, Anne shared her firsthand accounts with MSNBC, The Texas Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Texas Monthly, and Tahirih.org, offering an important glimpse into the chaos created by these new policies.
Like Julie, Tahirih’s Senior Counsel for Litigation, and Maricela, an Equal Justice Works Fellow, who spent five solid days – more than twelve hours each day – in a Texas detention center interviewing and representing countless women and their children in their requests for protection. The stories of unimaginable gender-based violence will forever ring in their ears.
I am amazed and inspired by my colleagues. And I am dismayed at the overarching reality they each shared: the harm of the administration’s policies is severe, and the road we must travel to seek justice is long.
This summer, we haven’t been able to rest. And this fall will be no different. We must continue writing legal briefs, pounding the pavement in D.C., and engaging daily with media. We must continue to stand up and speak out for women and children fleeing human rights abuses who qualify for protection despite the attempted dismantling of policies by this administration. We must hold the line.
But this is not a fight we can win on our own. We need everyone. Whether you are an attorney, a volunteer, a donor, an advocate, a concerned bystander … I ask you today to join us. Visit tahirih.org/buildingbridges and help us ensure our justice system honors our nation’s proud history, enshrined in U.S. law, of offering protection to women, men, and children fleeing persecution and violence.
Chief of Policy