Here's What You Need to Know About What's Happening at the Border + Ways You Can Help

 What's really going on at the U.S. Mexico border

With all of the heartbreaking images and audio coming in from the U.S. and Mexico border, it can be difficult to process exactly what is going on. Families are being separated, kids as young as 8 months old are being held in government facilities without their parents, and asylum seekers being turned away. We spoke with immigration attorney Maria Gloria Najera about the current situation at the border, facts we need to know, and how we can help. 

MBG: Thank you for speaking with MBG. Tell us, what on earth is happening at the border?

Maria Gloria Najera: This situation has been going on for some time, it's not new. When Obama was in office, and even before, they decided it was a great idea to separate families who were seeking asylum when coming to the U.S. Most of these families are coming from horrible situations and they have the right to seek asylum. But in order to stem the flow of families with children, they decided to separate them. It was used as a type of deterrent. Hopefully, word would get back to these countries and it would stop them from attempting to cross the U.S. border. But because these families are escaping severe violence, of which we hardly hear about in the media, it didn’t deter them.

MBG: If this has been going on for some time, why hasn’t it been more publicized? Why are we just now hearing about family separation at the border?

The Obama administration didn’t do it nearly at the scale that Trump did it. Trump decided to really amp it up.

MBG: There are reports that under the Obama administration if families were coming to the U.S. border to seek asylum, that they were kept together until their case was processed. However, if they came a second or third time – which is considered a felony – then the families would be separated.

No, I don’t know where you read or heard that. That’s simply not true. I do know that for families coming to the U.S. under the Obama administration, some of the kids were taken away on their first attempt at seeking asylum, but not to the extent that Trump is doing it. I guess they were just more quiet about it. I was just in immigration court this morning and ran into a fellow attorney who went down to the border under the Obama administration. She confirmed that kids were being separated from their families even back then. They were placed in foster care until their cases were resolved. But I mean, come on. These cases drag on for years and years. There is no quick resolution to asylum cases. And most asylum applications are denied anyway. So by that time, who knows where their kids are? During the entire process, they are not allowed to have contact with them. I’m talking years and years. And by the way, we have some of the crappiest foster care systems in the world.

Trump has decided to reverse this policy only after audio and pictures have been released of what is happening at the border, and the heat has been placed on him.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images News / Getty Images
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images News / Getty Images

MBG: You mentioned earlier when we spoke that when an individual or family comes to the U.S. border from a violent country and is seeking asylum, they have the right to speak to an ICE officer.

Everyone has a right to seek asylum. If you come from a violent country such as El Salvador, Guatemala and so on, and you fear for your life, you have the right to seek asylum. Once you come here and state that you are fearful for your life, you are supposed to get an interview with an ICE officer. The ICE officer will then determine if there is a credible fear of persecution upon returning to your country. If there is a credible fear, then you will be sent to immigration court so you can file your application for asylum. ICE simply doesn’t have the personnel to process these people. They don’t have enough space for asylum seekers to stay – usually locked up somewhere –  conduct interviews, and so on so they’re being turned away. They [ICE] are refusing to even listen to these people.

I have personally known someone who was being chased and almost murdered by the drug cartel down in Mexico. He fled his hometown and sought asylum. They [ICE] wouldn’t even listen to him. They refused to give him an interview. They just turned him away without even giving him the right. But you know what? I got him asylum. I fought hard for him.

MBG: Why do you think people are really being turned away at the border? Is it really an administrative issue? Or is it something else? I mean, our government spends billions on war and can’t find the funds to adequately and humanely process asylum seekers?

I can’t say for sure. We have a history of turning people away at the border who are trying to seek shelter. One case that comes to mind is the boatload of poor Jewish people who came to the U.S. during WWII to seek asylum and were turned away. Even though they had the right to seek asylum, they were turned away before even being able to talk with someone or fill out paperwork. They were sent back to Germany and each and every one of them died in the Holocaust. We have a history of turning our nose up at the more or less “undesirables” such as Jews, and people with brown or black skin. I don’t know why they’re doing it. Maybe because they are overwhelmed. There are so many refugees fleeing their countries seeking asylum. No matter the reason, it’s wrong. I can’t help to think that race doesn’t play a part in it.

I’m very happy that Trump has changed his mind about this policy, but there are still so many kids out there that have been separated from their parents.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images News / Getty Images
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images News / Getty Images

MBG: What can we do?

You have to speak up. As a private citizen, you have to voice your opinion. In WWII Germany, you couldn’t say anything or you’d be arrested. In the United States, you can voice your opinion openly and freely. Trump reversed this policy and he only did it because people were outraged and spoke up. The pressure was on him. People were yelling from the rooftops. But you know what? This has been going on for a long, long, time. No one spoke up, no one cared because they’re just “illegals.” These kids are being traumatized. They are being damaged for life, and it’s our fault. Also, speak up about not allowing people to apply for asylum.

Like Session said, domestic and gang violence are not grounds for asylum anymore. These gangs rule these Central American countries. They rule Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, everywhere. These horrible drug cartels rule with absolute power. Who’s to blame? These countries are corrupted to the core. Who’s to blame for that? The idiots on this side of the border who can’t stop consuming the heroin, meth, cocaine and every imaginable drug that is being shipped over the border. Where does the blame fall? Does it fall on the poor guy in Mexico who is just trying to live his life and provide for his family while the cartels are threatening him to join or they’ll chop off his hands, murder his family, and set fire to his home? Is he to blame? Is he to blame because he doesn’t want to be involved in the drug cartel? Is he to blame because if he doesn’t join them his family will be slaughtered?

If there wasn’t a demand for all these drugs that the cartels are getting so rich on, then most of these problems would disappear. This guy in Mexico wouldn’t have to worry about his family getting slaughtered. He’d be raising his family, working his job, living his life, feeling safe and secure. The U.S. is partly to blame.

MBG: Agreed. No one wants to leave their home country, leave behind their family, their roots, their language, and come to a foreign land to be treated like an animal or invisible person. The only reason to flee is that you have no other option.

That’s what’s going on and it’s very, very frustrating.  


Ways You Can Help:

Donate or Volunteer with Organizations That Give Direct Legal Services

The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights

Al Otro Lado

Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project 

 ALDEA ― The People’s Justice Center 

 Santa Fe Dreamer’s Project 

Donate to a Bond Fund That Will Help Secure a Parent's Release

RAICES Family Reunification Bond Fund 

Donate to Organizations That do Impact Litigation

American Immigration Council

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project  

National Immigrant Justice Center

Demand Congress Take Action

You can call your members of Congress through the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121


 Maria Gloria Najera

Maria Gloria Najera is an attorney who has been practicing law for over 30 years. She specializes in immigration and criminal law. She is licensed in Texas and Illinois and can be reached at Mgnajera@Najeralaw.Com

Interview by: Gabriela Garcia

Feature Image Courtesy of: Manuela Guillén | @lazy.beam