U.S. Hispanic Chamber condemns policy of separating migrant children from parents
Fernand Fernandez, interim president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, has written a letter to members of Congress calling the controversial practice at the border a “disturbing injustice.”
The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) released a letter directed toward Congressional leaders on June 19 in “vehement opposition” to the recent immigration and asylum policies enacted by the Department of Justice (DOJ), which allow for the separation of migrant parents from their children at the U.S. border.
In the letter, signed by USHCC Interim President and CEO Fernand Fernandez, the chamber condemns how the DOJ under President Donald Trump has been criminally prosecuting migrants with children who illegally cross the border at non-ports of entry, causing officials to separate children and house them in makeshift tent shelters and former big-box stores while parents are sent through the federal court system.
Previously, under former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, the federal government made exceptions for migrants traveling with minor children and would begin processing for asylum.
“On behalf of the USHCC, we stand alongside the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and legislators on both sides of the aisle in opposition to the separation of immigrant families,” the statement reads. “We implore you to outlaw this disturbing practice. Family separation violates the very notion of human decency, as well as the most basic ideals of our nation.”
President Trump’s aggressive anti-immigration effort of criminally prosecuting migrant parents with children is rooted in a “zero tolerance” policy approved in April that is now being enforced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a measure to reduce illegal crossings. In a span of six weeks from April 19 to May 31, nearly 2,000 children were separated from their parents at the border.
USHCC believes that the violation of immigration law should be treated as a civil offense, but federal law allows for it to be treated criminally, and the Trump administration has been considering it as such. The chamber also cited a United States Government Accountability Office Report that suggests it has not been proven that keeping undocumented immigrants in federal detention centers deters migration.
The chamber’s letter also cites the emotional and psychological damage suffered by children who are taken from their parents and says the centers where the federal government is housing children do not have the adequate resources to provide them what they need.
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielson and other administration officials have said that migrants should reach ports of entry to be processed legally for asylum rather than approaching the border elsewhere. The asylum system, however, has been backed up since before the Obama administration and there is a wait of months, sometimes years, for migrants seeking refuge from violence or dire economic conditions to be entered into the approval process.
The DOJ under Obama allowed asylum-seekers into the country while their case was being processed, and this led to many undocumented immigrants becoming lost in the system and not attending their court hearings to officially grant them asylum. The Trump administration has stopped this practice, and the backlog of migrants seeking asylum leads to lines of people at the border and illegal crossing attempts, which the Trump DOJ is then treating as criminal offenses.