As families head north, county disavows separation policy
In another move to make Taos County a more welcoming place for immigrants, the Taos County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution Tuesday (Oct. 23) condemning the “wholesale” use of the federal immigration policy of family separation.
News of the federal government’s intention and practice of family separation hit the country in April, when the Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy of people illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border; parents were placed in criminal detention while children were put in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, often in temporary or outdoor camps. Pro-immigrant groups decried the policy as callous, while advocates of more tightly regulated borders pitched the practice as a necessary move to deter immigration to the United States.
In June, a federal judge ordered the Trump Administration to quickly reunite children with their families. The administration identified 2,654 children for that process, but by Sept. 10, more than 430 children were still not back with their families, according to an Oct. 24 report from the Government Accountability Office. Federal agencies were not well prepared for the influx of unaccompanied minors into the immigration system, the report states.
A “caravan” of thousands of migrants from Central America is currently journeying north toward the United States, promising another wave of people seeking to cross the border.
The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or ICE, “not only traumatizes these children but also treats them as ‘parentless,’ takes them into custody,and detains them without the right to have contact with their parents. Some of these children may even go unaccounted for, and...in some cases where parents are deported, their parental rights have been terminated and their children put up for adoption by third parties,” read the Taos County resolution.
“The right of immigrant parents to the care, custody and control of their children is a fundamental human right that should not be denied by any government,” it read.
The Taos County resolution is a follow-up to a 2017 “sanctuary” policy re-affirmed by the Taos County Commission, which was largely seen as a symbolic gesture meant to ease the worries of the immigrant community of Taos. Roughly 18 percent of county residents are Mexican nationals or first-generation U.S. citizens with Mexican parents, according to demographic data in the Taos County Comprehensive Plan.
“We drafted this resolution thinking about the situation on the border. It means a lot to us,” said Jose Gonzalez, a local immigrant rights activist. “Thank you very much to the commissioners and county manager.”
The county resolution condemning the practice was tucked into the meeting’s consent agenda, where commissioners vote on several items at one time. That part of the meeting is usually reserved for more procedural matters like budget adjustments and contract approvals.
“In doing that, you see you had our full support,” Commissioner Jim Fambro told a jubilant crowd of about 30 people following the unanimous vote. Commissioner Tom Blankenhorn was not present.
Gonzalez is starting a new nonprofit, Sin Fronteras Nuevo Mexico, for immigration services such as housing, citizenship applications and family reunification. He hopes to have the organization open by the end of the year.