As fam­i­lies head north, county dis­avows sep­a­ra­tion pol­icy

The Taos News - - LOCAL NEWS - By Cody Hooks chooks@taos­news.com The Taos News

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.

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