On July 8, Andrea Lum and LeAnn Kanowsky of Indivisible East Bay attended CA-15 Representative Eric Swalwell’s roundtable discussion on the situation at our border and immigration detention centers. Eden United Church of Christ hosted the event, and representatives from Indivisible Livermore, Tiburcio Vazquez Health Center, other religious organizations, and legal aid agencies who provide services to immigrants were invited to participate in the hour-long discussion. Swalwell’s goal was to share his recent experience visiting the detention centers, discuss how we can help those in need, and collect information to support legislation in Congress to improve treatment of those crossing the border and seeking asylum.

During Swalwell’s recent visit with several other members of Congress to Homestead detention center in Florida, officials refused to open, let alone distribute, boxes of donated soap and toothbrushes. He noted that no one from the delegation visit was allowed to enter the detention center, as the officials at Homestead cited a need for two weeks’ advance notice.

The legal aid advocates at the meeting confirmed that the situation at the border and at the detention centers is “chaotic” and that the attitude by the current administration has encouraged bad behavior by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Once detainees have established “credible fear” with CBP, the interview is supposed to end and ICE should be involved. However, the legal advocates stated that immigrants often report CBP continuing to probe for information, creating a hostile environment. In addition, indigenous immigrants who do not speak Spanish (such as Maya people from Guatemala and Honduras), are severely disadvantaged by a lack of translators and unaware of the need to assert fear as the first process of seeking asylum.

Swalwell said the House Judiciary Committee, of which he is a member, will soon hold hearings on how to hold ICE and CBP officials accountable for the inhumane and criminal treatment of those in custody and stated that going forward, the next administration may need to completely remake ICE in order to clean up the “poisoned pool” of its employees.

When asked what we could do to help, Swalwell said that the upcoming Lights for Liberty events are important for boosting awareness. The following organizations are also worthy of support:

  • Immigrant Family Defense Fund: Legal and community resources for families in Alameda County public schools
  • The Florence Project: AZ legal service provider for adults and children
  • Keep Tuscon Together: AZ project that assists community members being deported
  • County Rapid Response Networks need our support, and we need to encourage our County Supervisors to commit to providing long term funding to these organizations.

At the conclusion of the meeting, we met an immigrant mother and her three children who are awaiting arrival of their father who is still in custody even though he won his asylum case. The administration is detaining him pending appeal, in spite of federal regulations which prohibit this.

Photograph (top) (c) Rep. Swalwell’s office, from December 2018 Town Hall

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