Our report this month includes news stories about the damaging effects of detention; the criminalization of humanitarian aid; and the journeys still ahead for released asylum seekers.
- Asylum Seekers in Detention: Though seeking asylum is a civil process, applicants often find themselves incarcerated in maximum-security, criminal-style prisons as they wait months or longer for their court dates. This indefinite confinement in overcrowded and substandard conditions is, in fact, endured by all detained migrants, an approach rare among other countries, but standard in the U.S. The experience can be so spirit-crushing, some asylum seekers choose to drop their claims, and return to the persecution and violence they fled. Former Border Patrol agent, author, and KBI volunteer Francisco Cantú bears witness to the dehumanizing realities of the detention system in this powerful op-ed: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/31/opinion/power-asylum-seekers.html.
- Prosecuting Humanitarian Aid: Ever since April 2017 when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to apply the harboring statute more strictly, arrests for harboring, sheltering, and leaving food or water have been on the rise, increasing 30% from FY2015 to FY2018. These arrests often amount to the criminalization of humanitarian aid. In a widely covered case that ended in a hung jury, southern Arizona resident and No More Deaths/No Más Muertes volunteer Dr. Scott Warren was charged with three felony counts under the harboring statute for providing food and water to two migrants in a desert region where hundreds have died of dehydration and exposure since 2001. Warren’s case and two others are covered here: https://www.npr.org/2019/05/28/725716169/extending-zero-tolerance-to-people-who-help-migrants-along-the-border.
- The Journey to Asylum: In cities across the southwest border of the U.S., recently released asylum seekers fill Greyhound buses as they undertake long, multi-stop trips to live with family members until their court dates. These Central American migrants have already traveled thousands of miles across at least one country, and the challenges continue as they juggle concerns about children, meals, and money. This article captures the road-weariness and hope of one 85-hour journey: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/05/26/us/greyhound-immigration.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_190527.