As director of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, Bill Holston has been flooded in recent days with calls and emails from people trying to find out how they can help those families separated at the border under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” enforcement policy on illegal immigration.
“The first thing I say to everybody is, ‘We’ve been representing asylum-seekers from Central America for 18 years. Children from Central America for the last 12 years. And we’ve been seeking volunteers to help us do that the whole time,'” Holston says.
As a practical matter, there hasn’t been much impact from the border crisis here in Dallas, even as images of children pulled away from their parents continue to dominate local and national news coverage. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and the heads of other North Texas organizations have made it known they’re open to housing migrant children, but the only shelter in the area presently welcoming an undisclosed number of those children is in Fort Worth, where that city’s Catholic Charities branch has opened a 26-bed facility. Parents arrested at the border are being sent to federal detention centers elsewhere, while most of the children are being housed at short-term shelters in El Paso and in South Texas. Holston is pointing well-meaning volunteers toward the appropriate agencies on the border, including RAICES, a nonprofit providing legal support to immigrants and refugees in Texas.
Although President Trump today signed an executive order that will end family separations at the border without stopping the zero tolerance criminal enforcement, it only serves to replace family separation with indefinite family detention. Holston calls this a violation of the Flores Settlement, litigation that addressed the detention of families under previous administrations. “This ends one human rights fiasco with another,” Holston says. Family detention centers, of the sort that predate the Trump administration, won’t address the root of the issue.
Holston worries that uproar over the thousands of families separated at the border, as justified as that uproar may be and as much as he shares in the outrage, is missing the bigger point. For one thing, this is “just the latest and grossest” way the federal government is hurting refugees, Holston says. (Today, coincidentally, is World Refugee Day.) There was Trump’s travel ban, which included war-torn Syria. This year, there were steep cuts made to the United States’ refugee resettlement program. And that’s important, because most of the people now being detained at the border are not migrants looking for American jobs, but refugees and asylum-seekers looking for a peaceful place to live.
“I think that’s the problem with the current framing of this issue. The problem is that we have a refugee crisis on our border, with tens of thousands of people fleeing violence in Central America,” Holston says. “The problem is that we’ve treated them as migrants, rather than refugees. Until we face this as a humanitarian issue, we’re going to continue to have this problem.”
Some of those refugees escaping gang warfare in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are essentially stranded on a bridge leading into Brownsville, a week after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided the government would not grant asylum to immigrants fleeing gang or domestic violence. Reports of asylum-seekers being turned back at official border crossing points have been circulating for the better part of a year. “They’re saying that they’re here to claim asylum, and they’re not being permitted to do that,” Holston says. By law, refugees can only claim asylum here while in U.S. territory. They can’t do so from another country, or even from an American embassy.
Holston says that anyone in Dallas volunteering to help with immigration nonprofits and refugee resettlement agencies should be patient. “It takes some time to properly put people to work.” And it will take even more work to reunite the separated families.
“There’s going to be a lot of things people don’t know,” Holston says. “We don’t know how many children have been separated. We don’t know where their parents are. They don’t know where their parents are.”
Holston sent over a list of organizations, both in North Texas and on the border, working for immigrant families. Here they are:
Local Organizations working for Immigrant Families:
Human Rights Initiative of North Texas: Legal and Social services for asylum seekers and immigrant women and children. If you are interested in volunteering with us, contact our volunteer coordinator [email protected]
RAICES (Refugeee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) in San Antonio has started a Family Reunification and Bond Fund. Does free and low cost legal services including detention centers.
Justice for our Neighbors Dallas Fort Worth (Legal Services)
Catholic Charities Dallas (Legal Services)
Light of Hope Immigration Law Center (Legal Services)
Agencies working on the Border
Texas Civil Rights Project has filed litigation and is using legal advocacy to help families separated at the border.
South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) – ProBAR is a project of the American Bar Association currently supporting unaccompanied children in detention centers across South Texas.
Diocese of El Paso (legal service provider in El Paso, serving the shelters there.)
ACLU of Texas has this list of resources.
NETA, collecting items for asylum seekers stuck at the border.
JFON Tyler, legal services and collecting items to go to the border.