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 said this morning that he would sign an order ending the family separations at the border without stopping the zero tolerance criminal enforcement, he provided few details. Holston is skeptical of how that will work: “The zero tolerance policy goes hand in hand with family separation. Because you can’t house children in a jail.” 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.”Read More