The Biden administration has said it is officially ending the controversial Trump-era “Stay in Mexico” policy that forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases go through the courts, often under harsh conditions. grueling for months or years. We speak with lawyer and activist Efrén Olivares of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project about the impact of this policy, as well as ongoing efforts to reunite families separated at the US-Mexico border as part of of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy in 2018. Olivares represented some of the children and their parents, and wrote about them in his new book, My Boy Will Die of Sorrow: A Memoir of Immigration from the Front Lines.
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FRIEND GOOD MAN: This is Democracy now!, Democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
The Biden administration said on Monday it was officially ending the controversial Trump-era “stay in Mexico” policy and would no longer force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are processed. resolved in US courts over months and years. The announcement came just hours after a judge lifted an injunction, in effect since December, preventing Biden officials from shutting down the program, officially known as provincial deputy, migrant protection protocols. The Supreme Court ruled in June that the Biden administration had the power to end the policy.
Some 70,000 asylum seekers were subjected to provincial deputy from January 2019 to January 2021, when President Biden suspended politics, fulfilling a campaign promise. But a Texas federal court last December ordered the administration to restart the program after legal challenges from Texas and Missouri. Since then, nearly 6,000 additional asylum seekers have been registered in provincial deputy. Most were forced to live in squalid makeshift border camps. Others have taken refuge in towns near the US-Mexico border. He is an asylum seeker from Nicaragua who was living in a border camp in Matamoros, Mexico in 2020.
ASYLUM SEARCHER: [translated] I know this is not the place for a child or teenager. But while we’re here, we’re doing our best to save them from mental health issues. Sometimes the sadness is overwhelming, but you have to stay strong. I want my granddaughters to have a better future.
FRIEND GOOD MAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Efrén Olivares, the associate legal director of the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, formerly of the Texas Civil Rights Project in South Texas, where we caught up with him. . His new book is My Boy Will Die of Sorrow: Memoirs of Immigration from the Front Lines.
Efrén, welcome back to Democracy now! If you can talk about the importance of the end of provincial deputy? And then we want to ask you about the separation of children and how many are still separated.
EFREN OLIVARES: Hi Amy. Hello. Thank you for hosting me.
Yes, the end of provincial deputy, or “Stay in Mexico”, is a long time coming. We were pleased to see that the administration put the program on hold at the start of the Biden administration. Unfortunately, litigation and the court got in the way and prevented him from ending the program completely, and, in fact, the administration was forced to enroll additional people in provincial deputy. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled and the District Court has dissolved the injunction, there is nothing stopping the Biden administration from quickly and orderly deregistering everyone who is in provincial deputy and allowing them to deal with their asylum applications or immigration proceedings from the United States, where they will have access to an attorney, the ability to gather evidence, to present this evidence and everything that accompanies the presentation an immigration or asylum file.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Efrén, you have worked legally on behalf of many immigrant families who were separated under former President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. What is the status of these separated families today?
EFREN OLIVARES: Well, it varies. There are many situations. Some families have been reunited. Many are suing the government over this policy, which, remarkably, the Biden administration is defending in court. Dozens of lawsuits are still pending, and the Biden administration is defending Trump policies and Trump administration officials.
And some families, unfortunately, are still separated. Some children who have been taken from their parents are still in the United States, either with relatives or in the foster care system. And some parents were deported to their country of origin, were not located. So not all the families have been reunited – sorry. And some never will, unfortunately.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And also, the Biden administration is still enforcing the Title 42 pandemic policy, and nearly 2 million asylum seekers have been deported without due process as a result of Title 42. What do you see happening with this policy at the ‘coming ?
EFREN OLIVARES: Well, now the CDC and a host of scientists and public health experts have confirmed that there is no public health justification for Title 42 deportations. Unfortunately, the end of Title 42, this practice of deporting immigrants and asylum seekers, was also stopped in court. The administration has repeatedly said it intends to end the policy, but the courts have blocked it from doing so. We were pleased to see that in Congress there was no codification of Title 42. So as the administration continues to argue this against Texas and other states, we look forward to having a science-based policy around the pandemic, as well as common sense immigration and asylum policy, so that those seeking safety in this country have an orderly way to do so.
FRIEND GOOD MAN: I wanted to switch to a clip. I mean, like you said, you’ve represented a lot of separated families at the border and talked about it over the years on Democracy now!as you write in your book, My Boy Will Die of Sorrow: Memoirs of Immigration from the Front Lines. That’s what you write about a day in 2018 in McAllen, Texas. You said, “I came back to Bentsen Tower. Standing outside at the corner of 17th and Austin streets, I waited for the reporter to set up the camera. Renée Feltz, with Democracy now!, had traveled from New York to McAllen to cover the separations. She was the first journalist to tell us about the brewery crisis, and we saw this as an opportunity to tell the story to a wider audience, who weren’t yet aware of what we were seeing and hearing. in court every day. Let’s go to Renee interview in 2018 outside this federal courthouse in McAllen. A GEO Private group prison transport bus backed up behind you.
EFREN OLIVARES: These are the buses in which immigrants, many of whom are parents whose children have been taken, are transported to and from the courthouse, probably to a CCP detention center. The sad thing is that many of these people have children, and many of them were separated this morning, before they came to court, and were led to believe that when they return to the detention center , their children will be there. But we know that the children will not be there, because the government separates them.
FRIEND GOOD MAN: So it may surprise some to know, Efrén Olivares, that some 1,000 children are still separated at this point. I believe when the Biden administration came in, they put Dr. Jill Biden, President Biden’s wife, the first lady, in overall charge of reunification. If you can talk about the effect – in your book you also write about your own experience so many years ago of being separated from your family.
EFREN OLIVARES: Yes. You know, that interview you played was before this crisis made national news, and we were struggling to break through and let the public know what was really going on at the border. And one of the saddest things is that we’ll probably never know how many families were actually separated. Given the intentional lack of government record keeping, we won’t know. Many families were separated and the children ended up in a shelter, but the shelter never knew that this child was traveling with a family, with a parent, a father or a mother, because there was no register. And if the children were too small to be able to explain this, we will never really know how many children were separated.
And in terms of the lifelong consequences of that, you know, there’s been a lot of news coverage about the trauma that this experience, the violent separation of a child from their mother or father – you know, just thinking about this leaked audio, if that doesn’t convey what this policy has done to children and parents. It is still difficult to understand how in this country, in 2018 and beyond, it was possible to witness such a cruel violation of human rights against children.
FRIEND GOOD MAN: And, Efrén Olivares, we are going to make a post-show interview with you, post it online at Democracynow.org, to hear about your own life experience, as you write in your book, your book My Boy Will Die of Sorrow: Memoirs of Immigration from the Front Lines. Efrén Olivares, associate legal director currently at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Be careful.