Protesters walk though the streets as they protest against the Trump administration's immigration policies on June 21, 2018 in El Paso, Texas. Before President Trump signed an executive order on June 20th that the administration says halts the practice of separating families seeking asylum, more than 2,300 immigrant children had been separated from their parents in the 'zero-tolerance' policy for border crossers. (Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

children's health

Will Trump’s executive order change things at Mexican border?

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced changes to asylum requirements, leading to thousands of asylum seekers being charged with federal crimes and imprisoned—their children detained separately.

Here, Jayashri Srikantiah, a professor of law and director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Stanford University, and Lisa Weismann-Ward, clinical supervising attorney and lecturer in law at the university, discuss the evolving policies and President Trump’s new executive order.

Q

A recent policy change calls for charging undocumented immigrants with a federal crime and detaining them in federal prisons. Is this a new policy?

A

Yes and no. Previous administrations have announced hard-line policies at the border, including charging certain individuals who cross the border without permission with federal crimes. But the Trump Administration has increased the prosecution of noncitizens for entering United States without permission.

By announcing a zero tolerance policy under which anyone caught crossing irregularly is subject to criminal charges, the Administration is effectively saying that it will no longer exercise prosecutorial discretion at the border. That represents a substantial change in policy.

It is important to note that some individuals crossing the border are seeking asylum. They are trying desperately to seek haven from threats of violence to their lives and the lives of their families. Under the Trump Administration’s policies, even these individuals are targets for criminal prosecution.

Q

Many undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers, including victims of violence, come to the US border with their children. Is there a law mandating the separation of children from their parents when they are undocumented? Can you tell us what is going on with children at the border?

A

There is no law mandating the separation of families. This is something new that the Trump Administration announced as part of its “zero tolerance” policy, apparently rooted in the inhumane goal of deterring individuals from seeking asylum in the United States.

When children were separated from their parents, they were placed into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. They are either being housed in detention units for children only or being placed into the foster care system.

Q

What has changed in the policies now that President Trump has announced a new executive order?

A

It appears that the Administration is going to continue its zero-tolerance policy. The change is that it will detain families together instead of separating children from their parents. This raises concerns about prolonged detention of children, in contravention of a court decision called Flores v. Sessions, which set a standard for immigration detention of children.

Q

AG Sessions recently issued a decision restricting asylum options for victims of domestic violence. What kind of redress is there for victims of domestic violence and others who no longer qualify? Are there any other avenues for asylum seekers?

A

AG Sessions issued an opinion limiting when victims of domestic violence can constitute members of a “particular social group,” which is one way in which an asylum seeker can qualify for asylum. It is very likely that his decision will be challenged in the federal courts of appeals. Even beyond these challenges, we will continue to advocate in the (Immigrants’ Rights) clinic and the immigrants’ rights community on behalf of domestic violence survivors and other asylum seekers.

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While AG Sessions may have espoused the goal of changing the law in a drastic way, he nevertheless acknowledged that asylum cases, and specifically the questions relating to particular social groups, must be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. It will be more critical than ever for asylum seekers to be represented by counsel so that they can gather the detailed corroborative evidence necessary for their claims.

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