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Thousands of ‘Lawyer Moms’ Will Swarm Congress To Fight For Migrant Children

'We have a reaction as mothers to what’s been going on.'

Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas.
John Moore/Getty Images

Thousands of ‘Lawyer Moms’ Will Swarm Congress To Fight For Migrant Children

'We have a reaction as mothers to what’s been going on.'

What began as an online support group for lawyers with children has become a mobilizing force for thousands of people planning to bombard congressional offices nationwide on Friday in protest of the federal government’s treatment of migrant children and their parents.

Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch, an immigration attorney in Texas, wrote that she recently hit “the lowest moment in [her] career” when she met with an asylum seeker who had been separated from her son under the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy. According to Lincoln-Goldfinch, the woman had been holding the 5-year-old in her lap when an officer approached and informed her that he would be taking the boy “to the other side.”

My son clung to me and said he didn’t want to leave me,” she told Lincoln-Goldfinch. “The official grabbed him out of my arms and took him away and I just stayed there crying and crying.”

Lincoln-Goldfinch shared her client’s story in a “lawyer moms” online forum and found she was far from alone. The “heart-wrenching” stories these attorneys were hearing from new clients inspired the group to organize, Erin Albanese, an attorney in Washington State, told The Appeal.

Albanese, Lincoln-Goldfinch, and fellow moms decided to confront legislators face to face. They created a separate Lawyer Moms of America Facebook group on June 7 to plan and announce Friday’s Day of Action. Participants plan to drop off letters to demand family reunification and an end to the indefinite detention of migrant children who enter the country.

The online forum was not politically engaged before now. But once the Facebook group was created, the network of lawyer moms and their allies grew exponentially. There are now 15,000 supporters of the Facebook page, and Albanese estimates that roughly 50 percent of the people participating in Friday’s action are lawyers and mothers.

”We have a reaction as mothers to what’s been going on,” Albanese said. “As lawyers, the rights violations and illegality of it all really resonated with us in a different way.”

The action was first envisioned as a protest against the indiscriminate separation of children from their families, which ramped up after the Trump administration announced its zero-tolerance approach to prosecuting undocumented immigrants in April. As directed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, federal prosecutors are to pursue criminal charges against anyone caught attempting to cross the border into the U.S.  The policy has resulted in migrant children, who can’t legally be detained by federal immigration officials, being torn away from loved ones.

Now, organizers are expanding the scope of Friday’s event to protest the potential incarceration of migrant children under a “temporary detention policy” outlined in an executive order signed by President Trump last week. The order directs the Department of Homeland Security to keep migrant children and parents locked up together. Detained children, including those separated from their families and ones who crossed the border as unaccompanied minors, have already been kept in tents in scorching hot weather, injected with psychotropic drugs against their will, and beaten and berated.

”It’s an issue that’s pretty universal,” Albanese said of the separations. Trump’s executive order did little to assuage the group’s concerns. “[It] appears to provide for migrant families to be detained together indefinitely, essentially creating internment camps,” Albanese said. The order also fails to address the plight of children who have already been separated, as Trump has punted the responsibility of coming up with a reunification plan to Congress.  

Until that happens, children will continue to suffer in detention and flounder during court proceedings, said Minda Thorward, another Lawyer Moms of America organizer based in Washington State. Thorward, who also practices immigration law, said stories of children holding on to drawings of their loved ones resonated with her. “These are people who are already fleeing horrible conditions: domestic violence, gang violence, even just abject poverty. Not having children with their parents just compounds that trauma,” she told The Appeal.

Emotional trauma is not the only consequence of separating children from their parents, Thorward said. Immigration court does not guarantee the right to counsel, which means young people—including babiesmust somehow represent themselves in complex interrogation over why their families left their homes.

“Are they part of a particular social group? Where is a safe place in their country [where] they could live? Did they try to go to the police in order to get protection? None of that is articulable by a 3-year-old or even a 6-year-old,” Thorward said.

The results of this breakdown are already becoming clear. Sitting before a judge last week, a 3-year-old boy in El Paso reportedly stared at a picture book and responded “¡Es un avión!”—It’s a plane!—when asked for his name.

According to Albanese, demanding that members of Congress reunify and assist migrant children is just the starting point for the newly politicized Lawyer Moms of America. The group has already created a list of resources and possible actions for supporters to take, such as calling their governors to pull the National Guard from the border or pressuring state attorneys general to sign on to federal lawsuits against the latest detention orders. Individual lawyer moms have also protested outside detention centers alongside immigration rights organizations. But future political engagement will largely depend on what Congress does.  

“Our goal is to end family separations and indefinite detentions and to reunite the families. Until that is happening, we’ll keep finding ways to raise our voices,” Albanese said. “We’re gonna hold their feet to the fire.”  

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