Here at Latinxs in Kid Lit we are deeply concerned over the crisis at our southern border and the long-range effects that family separation will have on children. Today we are pleased and honored to share expert insights on this critical issue from three outstanding Latinas— children’s literature scholars Marilisa Jiménez García and Cristina Rhodes, and immigration-law expert Losmin Jiménez. In this article, you will also find resources for advocacy and a list of recommended books for the classroom.
By Marilisa Jiménez, Losmin Jiménez, and Cristina Rhodes
The separation of families at the U.S. border and news coverage about family separation and detention has reached a pinnacle. However, those working with these communities know this dire situation was long in the making. As members of the children’s literature community, and those who advocate for the stories of young people and their families, we wanted to create a resource providing more information about the facts on family detention and separation.
For this post, we were able to interview a legal expert in the field of immigration law, Losmin Jiménez, the Project Director of Immigrant Justice for the Advancement Project in Washington, D.C. Losmin is also Marilisa’s sister and brings with her years of experience advocating for immigrants in detention. We also assembled a list, undergirded by Cristina Rhodes’ research expertise on activism in Latinx children’s literature, for educators to consider when discussing these issues in the K-12 and higher education classroom.
Interview with Losmin Jiménez, Project Director of Immigrant Justice at the Advancement Project
- How long have you worked in this area of law? What have you seen change? What has not changed?
I have been practicing law for 10 years. I went to law school to represent children in foster care and started volunteering with Lawyers for Children America in Miami in 2004. During law school, I concentrated on children’s rights and family law. After law school, I worked in civil legal services in domestic violence, disability rights, family law, and conducted outreach to migrant workers in a rural part of Florida. I then started working in the field of immigration and have worked in the field of immigration for 6 years. From 2012-2015, I was appointed to the Legal Needs of Children Committee for the Florida Bar. Also, in 2012, I started volunteering on the American Bar Association (ABA) Right to Counsel Strategy Group, Children’s Rights Litigation Committee. Some of that time was spent working on immigration detention issues and representing unaccompanied minors. I have seen more erosions of due process and attacks on the independence of immigration judges. I have not seen detention of immigrants decrease, but only increase, much to my disappointment.
- What do you wish people knew about the border crisis?
The reasons why people flee to the United States are very complicated. Many of the individuals seeking protection in the United States are fleeing persecution, gender-based violence, human trafficking, and narco-traffickers. Many individuals seeking protection at the southern border are from the Northern Triangle Countries. The Northern Triangle is a term commonly used to refer to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The Northern Triangle countries are some of the most dangerous countries in the world outside of a conflict zone, after years of U.S. funded government interventions in the 1980s. People know they could die on the journey to the U.S. as they travel through the desert with a guide that they do not know, but risk their life and leave their country because staying home is not an option, as staying home could mean sexual assault, death, or torture. If you are fleeing for your life, applying for a visa and waiting years for a visa is not an option.
Also, it is not just people from Central America seeking protection at the southern border, but immigrants from Africa, South Asia, and other regions of the world who are seeking protection. All individuals have a right to seek protection under international law and federal law, including the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. That is the law. Prosecuting individuals for seeking protection in the U.S. is an affront to human rights.
Something else that people new to this area may not know is that immigration detention is not new, it has been happening for decades. Over sixty percent of immigration detention centers are run by private prison corporations that are publicly traded on the stock exchange, thus these corporations have a profit motive. Family detention has existed under previous administrations, and most recently under the Obama administration there was an expansion of family detention with four detention centers, one of which closed after litigation because of the horrible conditions. At the moment, there are three family detention centers: Berks Family Residential Center in Berks County, Pennsylvania (Berks), Karnes Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas (Karnes), and South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas (Dilley). To give you an idea of the size of these family detention centers, Dilley has 2,400 beds. It costs about $342.00 a day to detain a family. That is the financial cost, but the human costs are infinite.
The numbers of unaccompanied minors and families apprehended at the southern border has been very high for the last several years as the conditions in the Northern Triangle countries continues to worsen. Between 2014 and 2016, 168,203 unaccompanied minors were apprehended by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Regarding families, between 2014 and 2016, 185,957 family units were apprehended at the southern border by CBP. As of June 1, 2018, 58,113 family units were apprehended at the southern border. Please note that there are approximately 40,000 detention beds in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. ICE detention centers are meant for adults only. Under federal regulations and as a result of the Flores settlement, children are detained in shelters run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of U.S. Health and Human Services. However, families can be detained in a family detention center, but should only be detained for short period (20 days) to comply with Flores. The administration recently filed a motion asking a federal court for permission to detain children with their parents in ICE facilities while their criminal and/or immigration case is pending, and this could be years.
When I heard that the administration wanted to prosecute adults entering without a visa or valid travel document under Operation Streamline, I was outraged, but I also thought it would be a horrific policy that could not be sustained given the numbers of people and families apprehended at the southern border. Just in May 2018, 9,485 family units were apprehended.
Given this information, you may understand that when some groups began making well-intentioned arguments for keeping families together, but not addressing the use of prosecution under Operation Streamline, I was very concerned that what the administration would do would be to expand family detention. The solutions we envision or solutions we want are not the solutions this administration provides. This is why decriminalizing migration is so important and necessary. I would suggest that the demand be to decriminalize migration, suspend all deportations, and end immigration detention. In addition, government policies should address the root causes of migration so people will not have to flee their countries and would be free and safe to thrive in their home country.
- What can those concerned with children being separated from their families do to help?
Call your Congressional Representatives, meet with them, and advocate for policies that decriminalize migration, donate to organizations working with impacted populations such as RAICES, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), Detention Watch Network, and Grassroots Leadership. There are so many more, these are just suggestions.
- What are some myths about the current crisis that you hope are dispelled?
One myth that I see is the myth that people are “breaking the law.” By choosing to prosecute individuals at the southern border under Operation Streamline, the government is criminalizing a multitude of asylum seekers; however, under U.S. law and international law, individuals can seek asylum and should be able to do so. They should also be afforded due process– that is also “the law.” Another myth is that a “court order” is what is making the government separate the families. The reference to a court order is a reference to the Flores v. Reno settlement (1997) agreement. This settlement involves protections for children apprehended by immigration enforcement and concerns protections and conditions for all children in immigration, including unaccompanied minors and accompanied children. For more information, please look at materials on KIND’s website or WRC’s website about the Flores settlement. The Flores case was first filed in 1985 because of the egregious detention conditions unaccompanied minors endured in immigration detention.
Another myth is that detention is the solution when in fact it is not. Detention is inhumane, exacerbates trauma, and negatively impacts child development. In addition, it is incredibly expensive. There are humane ways to ensure the government processes individuals and families seeking protection. One method could be to move away from a law enforcement model to working with humanitarian personnel or social workers who are trained in dealing with survivors of trauma and are familiar with best practices in child welfare in a home-like setting or by placement with family in the home country. Lastly, there is no right to counsel in immigration proceedings, so there is no public defender who will be getting appointed to represent indigent clients in immigration court. Immigrants facing prosecution will be appointed a federal public defender in their criminal court case, but immigrants will not be appointed counsel in their immigration case. So you could have a 7-year-old unaccompanied minor who is facing court by himself or herself or a mother with two children facing court alone.
Further resources recommended by Losmin and Marilisa Jiménez:
National Institute of Trial Advocacy Blog, Immigration Relief for Unaccompanied Minors by Losmin Jiménez, http://blog.nita.org/2017/06/immigration-relief-unaccompanied-minors/
National Institute of Trial Advocacy Blog, Immigration Court and Due Process–NITA’s Official Position by Losmin Jiménez, http://blog.nita.org/2017/11/immigration-court-due-process-nitas-official-position/
Kids In Need of Defense: https://supportkind.org/
Teaching Central America: http://www.teachingcentralamerica.org
The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights: https://www.theyoungcenter.org/
Detention Watch Network, https://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/
Grassroots Leadership: http://grassrootsleadership.org/
Reading Recommendations by Cristina Rhodes
The following is not an exhaustive list of children’s books, websites, and academic sources, but each reveals, examines, and meditates on undocumented immigration, deportation, and childhood. If history has taught us one thing, it’s that children are disproportionately affected by geopolitics, and recent events more than solidify that fact. But children’s literature takes up that trauma, molds it and reshapes it into something new, something transformative. Children’s literature offers perspectives not just of hope (though hope is certainly there in those pages), but of the harsh reality of border crossing and children’s resiliency in the face of peril. In times when we’re left wondering what to do, what to think, I believe that turning to the pages of books for young readers allows us to mediate our feelings of hopeless and helplessness and allows our children to understand that they are not alone.
- Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta
- Friends from the Other Side/Amigos del otro lado by Gloria Anzaldúa
- Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago
- Super Cilantro Girl by Juan Felipe Herrera
- Mamá The Alien/ Mamá La Extraterrestre by Rene Colato Laínez
- Waiting for Papa by René Colato Laínez & Anthony Accardo
- My Diary from Here to There by Amada Irma Pérez
- Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale by Duncan Tonatiuh
- Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes
- Us, in Progress: Short Stories About Young Latinos by Lulu Delacre
- The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz
- The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande
- My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero
- The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child by Francisco Jiménez
- Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
- La Línea by Ann Jaramillo
- Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario
- Illegal by Bettina Restrepo
- Benuto, Lorraine T., Jena B. Casas Frances R. Gonzalez, and Rory T. Newlands. “Being an undocumented child immigrant.” Children and Youth Services Review, vol. 89, 2018, pp. 198-204. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2018.04.036
- de Cortes, Oralia Garza. “Behind the Golden Door: The Latino Immigrant Child in Literature and Films for Children.” Multicultural Review, vol. 4, no. 2, 1995, pp. 24–27, 59–62.
- Gonzales, Roberto G. “On the Rights of Undocumented Children.” Society, vol. 46, no. 5, 2009, pp. 419-22. doi: 10.1007/s12115-009-9240-7
We are deeply grateful to the authors of this article for exemplary work in their respective fields.
Marilisa Jiménez García is an interdisciplinary scholar specializing in Latino/a literature and culture. She is particularly interested in the intersections of race, gender, nationalism, and youth culture in Puerto Rican literature of the diaspora. Marilisa also specializes in literature for youth and how marginalized communities have used children’s and young adult texts as a platform for artistic expression, collective memory, and community advocacy. She is an assistant professor of English at Lehigh University. Her Twitter handle is @MarilisaJimenez.
Losmin Jiménez is Project Director and Senior Attorney for the Immigrant Justice Project. She has practiced law in numerous areas affecting children, families and immigrants. Losmin received her law degree with honors from the University of Florida College of Law. Learn more about her work here. Follow her on Twitter via @LosminJimenez.
Cristina Rhodes, a frequent and valued reviewer on this blog, is a Ph.D. candidate in children’s literature at Texas A&M University. Her thesis is entitled “Embodying la Resistencia: Activist Praxis in Latinx Children’s and Young Adult Literature.” Follow Cristina on Twitter at @_crisRhodes.