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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 7/2/18

"It's a Humanitarian Crisis": Texas Lawyer Describes Chaos, Terror of Family Separation at Border

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At least 2,000 migrant children remain separated from their parents, after the families were forcibly separated by immigration officials under President Trump's "zero tolerance" policy. A federal judge has ordered all these children must be reunited with their parents within 30 days -- but immigration advocates say the administration does not have a clear plan for how to reunite the families. In McAllen, Texas, immigration lawyers are scrambling to help their clients find and reunite with their children. Attorney Efre'n Olivares is director of the Racial and Economic Justice Program for the Texas Civil Rights Project.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. We just returned from the U.S.-Mexico border, where we went to Brownsville and nearby McAllen, Texas, ground zero for "zero tolerance." We went to a community meeting and, afterwards, spoke with one of the lawyers who had spoken at the meeting. He has been monitoring the mass trials and interviewing parents at the courthouse there who have been separated from their children. The U.S. government has separated more than 2,000 migrant children from their parents. Attorney Efre'n Olivares is director of the Racial and Economic Justice Program for the Texas Civil Rights Project. I asked him to describe the impact of Trump's "zero tolerance."

EFRÉN OLIVARES: It's a humanitarian crisis. There is no other way to describe it. We have had now, you know, hundreds or 2,000 families separated. And now we're getting to confirm that many of these parents are being deported without their children. The government has started to plant this narrative that a lot of the parents choose to leave without their children. And I'm concerned that that is because in a couple of weeks we will be able to confirm that hundreds of parents have been deported without their children. We interviewed, here in McAllen, 381 parents. Only one of them, and it was an aunt traveling with a nephew, and she told me, "If I get deported, my nephew should stay behind, because his mom lives here." Other than her, every single one of the people we interviewed said, "If I get deported, I want my child to come with me."

AMY GOODMAN: And how many, do you know -- how many children have been deported with their parents?

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EFRÉN OLIVARES: I know two children have been deported without the parent they were separated from. And five parents have been deported, and their children are still in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: What happens when a child is deported alone back to their country?

EFRÉN OLIVARES: They are turned over to the equivalent of ORR in their home country. And then it's up to that agency to determine what is in the best interest of the child -- I imagine it's similar to the United States -- figure out --

AMY GOODMAN: ORR being the Office of Refugee --

EFRÉN OLIVARES: The Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is in charge of taking custody of unaccompanied minors. And then, the counterpart in Mexico or the Central American countries would have to determine what's in the best interest of the child, deliver them to a relative or something like that.

AMY GOODMAN: The government, the Trump administration, says that they have reunited 500 children with their parents. Do you know where this number is coming from? Do you believe them?

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EFRÉN OLIVARES: I don't believe they have been reunited. And here's why. Because that fact sheet that they released late on Saturday night is ambiguous as to whether that includes children turned over, released to a relative in the United States, or reunited with their parents. They have admitted -- the secretary of health and human services confirmed that it will be very difficult to reunite children with parents if the parent is in detention. So that leads me to believe that those 522 children -- I hope they are with their parents, but I think it's very likely that the vast majority of them have been released to a relative, not the parent they were separated from.

AMY GOODMAN: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that the kids can Skype with, talk on the phone to their parents easily. Is this true?

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