As I sat in immigration court recently in a courtroom full of immigrants who are part of President Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” program, a small child cried piteously in the audience. It happens. Kids cry in court. I’m an immigration attorney and know this to be true: kids hate court, but their parents must often bring them to their mandatory court hearings, because they have no one else to watch them. This is especially true for the asylum seekers, who under the Remain in Mexico policy, are forced to remain in Tijuana while their cases are pending.
But this cry was different.
Turns out, the child wanted her mother, but for unknown reasons, the MPP (Migrant Protection Protocol) officers had separated the parents and children in the courtroom, with kids on one side and adults on the other, where they had no doubt been told to sit still and be quiet.
The smallest of the children was not having it, and she broke down within minutes after court started. An older child tried to comfort her, but nothing replaces mommy. The on-duty immigration officer finally allowed her mother to go to her, but only after the judge told him to do so.
This begs the question: Why was the child separated from her mother in the first place?
Last year a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to stop separating parents from children at the border, noting that the parent-child relationship is a constitutional right. But the order doesn’t say anything about interfering with the parent-child relationship while said parent and child are in the same facility.
It’s kind of like when you order your teenager to go to bed but they stay wide awake playing with their phone under the covers. They’re technically following your order, but missing the whole point, and exploiting the situation.
That’s exactly what this administration is doing with MPP.
The crying child is just the tip of the iceberg. Fellow immigration lawyers have shared stories of MPP folks coming into court disheveled, tired, and scared, having involuntarily spent too many nights on the streets of Tijuana before court.
In a recent court hearing, when asked by the immigration judge why they didn’t have their asylum application ready, one family tearfully described having been assaulted and robbed on the streets of Tijuana and having no means to complete the required paperwork, much less obtain an attorney to help them do so. This is especially true when the attorneys all work and reside on the other side of the international border—a border the families are no longer allowed to cross.
A recent San Diego Union Tribune article cited to similar due process violations and the inability of the court to keep up with the overwhelming number of incoming cases due to the bottleneck effect the MPP program is having on the San Diego immigration court system.
Indeed, the crying child is a symptom of a terrible assault on human rights and due process. Congress and the public need to stand against these unnecessary and inhumane policies. Our asylum laws do not call for vulnerable families to return to Mexico and face harm. Our hearts and minds know it isn’t right. I urge you to call, email, or tweet your congressional members’ offices and tell them MPP harms families, just as family separation harms families.