Migrant Family Separation and Detention: Violating the Constitution

Guest piece from Caleb Gates, a refugee case manager and advocacy specialist in Cedar Rapids. He read this as a speech at a recent Families Belong Together Rally.

We, the people of the United States, immigrants and descendants of immigrants, denounce the separation and detention of immigrant families by our government. President Trump’s policies separate families through ICE workplace raids, the deportation of longtime US residents with citizen children, and the termination of programs such as Temporary Protected Status and DACA. Simple misdemeanors like public intoxication, trespassing, loitering, or possession of marijuana detain and separate immigrants from their families.

President Trump’s policies and enforcement through ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seek to detain immigrant families, including children, in immigrant jails for weeks, months, or even years. Detaining immigrant families with children is wrong. It was wrong for President Bush to do it. It was wrong for President Obama to do it. And it is wrong for President Trump, Kirstjen Nielsen, and Jeff Sessions to do it.

These practices corrupt our union, establish injustice, ensure domestic chaos, weaken the common defense, demote the general welfare, and endanger the blessings of liberty for many in this country and their children. All people in the United States, no matter their legal status, deserve equal protection under the law. All people in the United States, authorized or unauthorized, cannot be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. Immigrants charged with criminal offenses should have rights to a speedy, public, jury trial, and the right to legal counsel, including pro bono lawyers if necessary.

Our immigration enforcement system needs drastic reform. Detaining children in immigration jails, with or without their parents, is wrong. ICE raids of immigrant homes and property without a warrant violate the 4th Amendment. Immigrants are regularly deprived of life, liberty, and property in violation of the 5th Amendment. Immigrants have died in ICE and CBP custody. Many wait years for a trial, and have no lawyer in violation of the 6th Amendment. Asylum applicants may be approved or denied solely based on which immigration court hears their case.

In 2015, immigrant defendants in Lumpkin, Georgia had less than a 2% chance of winning their case.  The same year, immigrant defendants in Philadelphia and San Francisco had a 50% chance of winning their case. Differing outcomes based solely on geographic location, violates the equal protection of migrants under the law. The ACLU and other independent sources report Customs and Border Protection agents routinely abuse migrant detainees, including children, denying them medical care, sexually assaulting them, physically threating them, and racially insulting them. Such punishments are cruel and unusual in violation of the 8th Amendment.

The immigration court system is backlogged with over 700,000 pending cases. The system needs hundreds of additional immigration judges to deal with the bottleneck. But until the United States government works with Latin American countries to address conditions in those countries pushing those migrants to come, no wall, no threat, will keep them out of the US.

Until the U.S. holds employers, not migrant workers, accountable for hiring undocumented immigrants, they will continue to come. Until we mitigate human-caused climate change, extreme droughts, severe famine, and intense hurricanes will push more and more people to leave their countries. Until we fix our broken immigration system that separates families and deprives individuals of their Constitutional rights, these injustices and violations of the Constitution will continue. Until we move the Immigration Court System from the Executive Branch to the Judicial Branch, the fate of migrants rests on the whims and mood of the President and Attorney General. Until the Department of Homeland Security, ICE, and Customs and Border Protection are held accountable by an independent oversight committee, the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of migrants will continue.

We, the people, demand our elected officials right these wrongs. If they refuse, we, the people, will vote them out of office.

Some may say, President Trump ended the separation of families, so we should be satisfied. President Trump’s immigration policies still separate families. ICE separates families every single day. About 2,000 migrant children are still separated from their parents. Our government forbids many of those parents from reuniting with their children, until they give up their asylum claims and agree to be deported. And if the courts do not allow detention of children with their parents beyond the 20 days permitted by law, Trump may again separate children from their parents. We are not satisfied.

When will immigrant rights advocates be satisfied? In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., We can never be satisfied as long as immigrant children remain detained in immigration jails. We can never be satisfied as long as ICE conducts unreasonable searches and seizures of the homes of immigrants without a warrant. We cannot be satisfied as long as our government deprives immigrants of life, liberty, and property without due process of law. We can never be satisfied as long as immigrants remain in jail for years without a trial. We will never be satisfied until the government provides a lawyer for every immigrant who cannot afford one. We will not be satisfied until immigrant defendants in Lumpkin, Georgia and Atlanta have the same chance to gain asylum as immigrant defendants in Philadelphia and San Francisco. We will not be satisfied until the Immigration Court System is removed from the Executive Branch and made independent under the Judicial Branch. We will never be satisfied until every migrant receives equal protection under the law and is treated with the dignity and worth due every person.


by Caleb Gates
Photo via Phil Roeder
Posted 7/5/18

4 Comments on "Migrant Family Separation and Detention: Violating the Constitution"

  • I agree with one point in particular, and that is that anyone individual or business hiring undocumented people that are not citizens, should be prosecuted and fined substantially . This issue of employing illegals is something democrats should be shouting about . But to say undocumented folks whom come into our country illegally are justified in coverage by our country’s constitution is where you go wrong , Our constitution’s rights and privileges are for those of us that are citizens period . Perhaps you wish to continue giving presents to the other side and get them elected ! That being said there is no reason to treat people trying to migrate illegally like cattle . They can and should be treated humanly, and in an orderly fashion be judicially dealt with . If asking for asylum and if that is why they came , they should be dealt with according to those laws covering asylum seekers . But come up with a better boarder security idea, and a better and securer way of dealing with folks trying to get here . But just being a bleeding heart liberal trying to be everything to everybody in the world and our country won’t trump the Trumpeters . Think, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, its impossible at best . Stop being a bleeding heart ! Come up with better ideas that are practical and make good commonsense and you will get more support !

    • If the party runs on “Open Borders” and “Abolish ICE” in 2020 they will see President Trump easily get re-elected.

    • Kmjr: what you are espousing is simply UNCONSTITUTIONAL under
      the law! Educate yourself and don’t be influenced or give into fear, rightwing
      jingoism, or unconscous or conscious Trumpism please.

  • Here is a novel idea–you lead your life and family your way and as a citizen of the United States also I will do the same. Please refrain from telling other’s how to live.

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