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Undocumented Mother: Stop Separation of Migrant Children by Dropping Charges Against Their Parents

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Image Credit: @detroitdsa

President Trump’s “zero tolerance” crackdown on immigrants and asylum seekers continues as parents of more than 2,000 separated children say they still don’t know where their kids are. Trump now says migrants should be deported without judges. We’ll get response from Maru Mora Villalpando, an undocumented immigrant and mother with the group Mijente and Northwest Detention Center Resistance. She has a hearing in her own immigration case on Tuesday and says the best way to stop the separation of children from their families at the border is to drop the charges against their parents.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today with President Trump’s ongoing crackdown on immigrants and asylum seekers. On Sunday, Trump lashed out on Twitter and in his weekly address, saying people who cross into the United States should be deported immediately, without an appearance before a judge.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Unfortunately, open-border Democrats support the loopholes that prevent families from being detained and removed together. They just want everyone to be released into our country, no matter how dangerous they are. They can be killers. They can be thieves. They can be horrible people. The Democrats say it’s OK for them to be in our country. I don’t think so. Congress, and Congress alone, can solve the problem. And the only solution that will work is being able to detain, prosecute and promptly remove anyone who illegally crosses the border.

AMY GOODMAN: Over the weekend, the Trump administration released its plan for reuniting the more than 2,000 children it separated from their parents as a result of the new “zero tolerance” immigration policy, and said the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas will be used as a staging ground to reunite families prior to deportation. Despite assurances from officials that the family reunification process would be, quote, “well coordinated,” the nonprofit Annunciation House in El Paso said it took in 32 immigrant parents who were freed this weekend but still don’t know where their children are.

Meanwhile, in Brownsville, Texas, a 15-year-old boy reportedly walked away from the Southwest Key detention center that holds 1,500 children aged 10 to 17 in a former Walmart. Southwest Key spokesperson Jeff Eller confirmed the news Sunday, saying, quote, “We are not a detention center. We talk to them and try to get them to stay. If they leave the property, we call law enforcement,” unquote.

This comes as protests continue to grow across the country demanding the reunification of families. Hundreds of protesters have launched ongoing “Occupy ICE” encampments blockading ICE facilities in New York; Los Angeles; Portland, Oregon; Tacoma, Washington. People also demonstrated at the tent city in Tornillo, Texas, now housing migrant children. Thousands marched in San Diego, California. This is Samantha Clemence.

SAMANTHA CLEMENCE: It’s inhumane. It breaks my heart, and it needs to stop now. And they need to reunite the families that they’ve already traumatized.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in McAllen, Texas, protesters temporarily blocked a bus carrying migrant children, chanting, “Set the children free.” In New York, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer called for a White House reunification czar to coordinate the reunification of families separated at the border.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: Right now there are thousands of kids lost in limbo who await reunification with their parents. And there are various agencies that are in charge. The kids are under jurisdiction of Health and Human Services; the parents, under the Justice Department. What we found out over the years is when there are separate agencies trying to solve a single problem, it works slowly, at best, and sometimes doesn’t work at all. And so, a czar, someone from the White House who can whip things into shape and coordinate among the various agencies, is very much needed. There are thousands of kids lost in limbo. There are thousands of parents waiting. Word is that the process could take a very long time, much longer than it should. And so we have to find a way to expedite the process, to move quickly and strongly.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we look these latest developments in Trump’s crackdown on immigrants and the growing sentiment among immigrant rights activists that the best way to stop the separation of families at the border is to drop the charges against the parents. This comes as parents and children apprehended at the border have been taken to detention centers and prisons across the country separately. Meanwhile, immigrants are not only being criminally prosecuted at the border, they’ve also faced criminal charges after immigration raids in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Austin, Chicago, New York City and Morristown, Tennessee.

For more, we’re going north, from the southern U.S. border to Seattle, Washington, where we’re joined by Maru Mora Villalpando, an activist and undocumented immigrant with the group Northwest Detention Center Resistance and the group Mijente. She has a hearing in her own immigration case on Tuesday. Also, well over a hundred people have been taken from the border in the last few weeks and brought to a federal prison in Seattle.

Maru, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the connection between Washington state and the U.S.-Mexico border?

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: Yes. Thank you, Amy. We’ve seen at least 200 people being sent to the federal prison in SeaTac at the beginning of June. We heard from our compañeros of the caravan at the border telling us that that might happen. And yeah, it was confirmed. We actually have, every month, something that we call solidarity days at the detention center in Tacoma. So we actually decided to switch locations on June 9th and go to the SeaTac prison, where hundreds of people show up. We wanted to tell people we’re not there only for the over 200 people detained from the border, separated from their children, but we wanted people to know that this is a common practice. We’ve seen people taken at the border, charged with re-entry and then sent to SeaTac for a sentence, a federal sentence, and then, later, transferred to the detention center in Tacoma. So we were aware of that situation. What we didn’t know is that those parents separated at the border end up in the SeaTac prison.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, we interviewed Democratic Congressmember Pramila Jayapal of Washington state. She described her visit with some of the 200 asylum seekers at the SeaTac Bureau of Prisons facility. That’s Seattle-Tacoma, SeaTac, in her home state.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: I heard from the 174 women that I met with at the federal prison—they’re being held at a prison because all the detention centers are filled. These are 206 individuals who were transferred from Texas, from the border, to a federal prison. Some of them, about 40 percent of them, had been in detention for over a month. Not a single one of the mothers had seen their children. Not a single one of them had been able to say goodbye to their children. And only two out of the—all of the mothers that were there even knew where their children were.

AMY GOODMAN: This weekend, Congressmember Jayapal returned to the SeaTac detention center to meet with men who are jailed there. Outside the facility, after her visit, she said, “The president is the one who created this crisis. He’s the one who can end it by picking up the phone and calling Jeff Sessions and ending this 'zero tolerance' policy.” Maru, talk about your own case, because as all of the focus now is on these thousands of children who don’t know if they’ll ever see their parents again, you also have immigrants around the country, like yourself, also a mom, who face deportation.

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: That’s right. There’s thousands and thousands of us facing this monster of detention and deportation. Let’s remember that we have—what? At least 37,000 people across the nation in detention centers. There’s many of us that are not detained but are in deportation proceedings. There are also people that are wearing an ankle bracelet, under this monitor and surveillance system that ICE also placed people on, which is another private company running the show. In this case, it’s GEO. So, there’s many of us facing this monster.

What we want people to know is that what the children are facing is something that ICE and this government had already practiced on us adults. So, this government is just escalating what they’ve done to us and our families in the interior. Now they’re doing it to families trying to get to this country.

And in my case, I think it’s very clear that ICE jumped from an agency that was created to destroy my community, to try to get rid of us whatever way they can, and make money on the way, to actually become a political repression machine. So, I’m not the only activist being placed in deportation proceedings, but my case is very clear. They have nothing on me. I have no criminal record. I have never been in a raid. And still ICE decided to begin deportation proceedings against me. And as they clearly marked on a document that they sent to the judge, they see me as an anti-ICE activist. And they even dared to say that I’m a Latino advocacy activist, too, which I didn’t know it was grounds for deportation.

AMY GOODMAN: Which is an absolutely key point, around the country, immigrants who have been organizing and taking on the government, they themselves being arrested. I want to turn to community organizer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is challenging New York Congressmember Joe Crowley in tomorrow’s New York primary. Very interesting debate. In a recent debate with Crowley on NY1, moderated by Errol Louis, Ocasio-Cortez called for the abolition of ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. This begins with Congressman Crowley.

REP. JOE CROWLEY: Where this government is separating children from their mothers, it is antithetical to everything that I believe in, and that’s what I fight for every day.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: And you know what? If this organization is as fascist as you have called it—

REP. JOE CROWLEY: I’ve said it’s fascist.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: And you have said it’s fascist. Then why don’t you adopt the stance to eliminate it? This is a moral problem. And your response has been to apply more paperwork to this situation, to have ICE collect more information on immigrants. And that puts our communities in danger. And it also conveys a profound misunderstanding of how we should be approaching this problem.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who’s challenging New York Congressmember Joe Crowley in Tuesday’s primary. She visited a tent city for immigrant children in Tornillo, Texas, this weekend, where she confronted immigration officers, saying, “These are human rights abuses. I cannot sleep at night knowing these children are here.” Talk about this call to abolish ICE, Maru, if you will.

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: We have been calling for the abolition of ICE for a really long time. We’re really happy that people are catching up with us. It’s just really sad that it took this horrible tragedy for people to realize the only solution is to abolish ICE.

What we’re calling for right now is to have Jeff Sessions removed. He should make sure that before he goes, all charges against these parents should be dropped. We’re calling for the suspension of all deportations. We are also calling for the end of all forms of detention. And in order to abolish ICE, we should start with defunding the entire agency and dismantling.

Can you imagine a Border Patrol that actually helps people when crossing the border, where they’re actually helping people get to the country based on the international agreements that we have? Can you imagine a Border Patrol that’s actually humane? I think it’s possible, because we didn’t have this crisis 15 years ago. We can actually change it completely.

And that’s why Mijente is going to have an action at the border in San Diego next week, on July 2nd. And we invite people in the area to come with us and be there with us, where we can actually change things. And it’s very clear. We’re very happy that politicians are catching up with us, but we also want to make it clear, we don’t want anybody profiting from this tragedy or from our families, neither politically nor economically. People that are here to tell that, yes, we need to abolish ICE, they need to follow the leadership of those that have been fighting this monster for such a long time. And they need to follow our steps that we laid out, starting with the suspension of all deportations.

AMY GOODMAN: We had you on when there was a hunger protest at the Northwest Detention Center. Can you talk more about the immigration-industrial complex? Who profits from this massive population, this growing population, in the private and other prisons?

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: Well, there’s too many players nowadays. We notice here in Tacoma, Washington, one of the biggest corporations of private prisons, GEO Group, being one of the biggest profiteers right now. But there are so many companies within that system. We have Keefe, the commissary company. We have Telmate running the communications. We have Aramark bringing, quote-unquote, “food” to the detention center. But now we’ve also seen the expansion of detention to county jails. So, for example, people in Tacoma are being transferred to NORCOR, a county jail in Oregon, where they’re also getting more money because they’re accepting money from ICE, supposedly to be able to run the jail. We’ve also seen, as the example of the southern border, “nonprofits,” quote-unquote, also making money out of the misery of these children and their parents being separated.

There’s a big, huge corporation list that we can go on and on—Dell, Microsoft, you name it. There’s a lot of surveillance technology being developed for ICE to catch up with us—right?—supposedly to look for what they call fugitives of their programs, that they have been setting up for so many years. They treat us as we are in a war. And I think that now that this administration declared war on us immigrants, these corporations, both profit and nonprofit, are making a ton of money out of us.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of Microsoft, which is based where you are, in Washington state, facing threats of a boycott over its collaboration with ICE. A blog post from January resurfaced, in which Microsoft said it was “proud to support” ICE and that Microsoft’s technology can help the agency “accelerate facial recognition and identification.” In response to the online outrage and boycott threats, the company said Microsoft is “dismayed by the forcible separation of children from their families at the border.” Are you satisfied with that, Maru?

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: I think it’s a good first step. I don’t think it’s enough. I think that all corporations should be held accountable to the consumers. We all get to choose who we give our money to. And in this case, I think Microsoft needs to go further and to have a specific policy that they will not develop any kind of technology that favors ICE’s roles in our country, which is to destroy our communities. I think there should be not only Microsoft, but any other corporation, again, that is making money from regular consumers and from our immigrant communities. And I think that at the end of the day, the consumers have the last word. I think that people should be able to continue requesting Microsoft, in this case, and Google and any other agency, any other corporation that is making money out of us, to actually put it in writing and make sure they’re not making any more money out of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Maru, you are wearing a T-shirt that says, “Right to exist, right to resist.” You’re sitting in a TV studio, speaking to the world. You’re about to go to a hearing tomorrow in your own case, as you speak out for everyone else. Are you afraid? Are you afraid of being deported?

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: I was afraid for many, many years. I decided not to be afraid anymore. Both my daughter and I made the decision to stop being afraid and to fight instead. I get a ton of calls from the detention center every day. And a lot of those calls are from people detained that are worried about me. And that shows you the care and the love that I have from my community. So I’m not afraid. I feel very, very supported. And as the people detained have told me, “You have to win, because your win is our win.” So I have a responsibility to the people detained that we’ve been supporting. I am accountable to them.

And the last thing I can do is fight. So I will continue fighting. I’m not going to give up. I know we’re going to win, because we have extreme support. We have the support from the people that I need the most, which is people detained. My community is with me. And all we need is more people to come here to support my case, but, most importantly, to support all of those families that don’t have the support that we have. My daughter and I are very privileged to be able have this forum and to tell people the reality that we’re facing. But there’s way too many families that don’t have this kind of support. So we have to be there for everybody, not only for asylum seekers, not only for parents. We have to be there for absolutely everybody, and we have to dismantle every single cage for human beings that exists in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Maru Mora Villalpando, I want to thank you for being with us, activist, mother, undocumented immigrant, with the group Northwest Detention Center Resistance and the group Mijente, speaking to us from Seattle, Washington. We’ll let people know the results of your hearing tomorrow.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we head south to Washington, D.C., where thousands marched and rallied on Saturday to both end the first period and inaugurate a new Poor People’s Campaign. Stay with us.

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