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Caravan arrives in El Paso to protest kids' detention center

Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio

A group of Michigan faith leaders and others have arrived in El Paso, some driving more than 1700 miles from Ann Arbor, to protest what they call cruel immigration policies adopted by the Trump administration - especially the detention of unaccompanied migrant juveniles at the Tornillo Detention Center. 

The Tornillo Detention Center currently houses up to 3,800 children, some as young as 13, who crossed alone into the U.S. from Mexico.  Many crossed legally at ports of entry, and many are being detained for months.

Immigrant rights groups and immigration attorneys say the children almost always have the name and phone number of a family member in the U.S. willing to take them in, but that many in the migrant community are now too afraid to claim their relative, knowing that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has detained and deported some of those who showed up in the past.  

President Trump has said he wants to imprison all migrants who seek asylum indefinitely, including unaccompanied juveniles.  That would almost certainly require the construction of many more tent cities capable of holding tens of thousands more juveniles, adults and families with young children.  

The 20 or so people in the caravan were joined Wednesday night by about 50 Jews, Christians, activists, and other people of conscience who flew in from cities around the country, to join a planned Thursday vigil at the detention center. Several other rabbis and priests from local congregations in Texas also joined the protest Wednesday.

The so-called "Let Our Families Go" group plans to cross briefly into Mexico on the Sante Fe Pedestrian Bridge, in order to be able to walk in the footsteps of people fleeing hardship in their home countries. 

Until recently, people were camping overnight on the bridge after U.S. Customs and Border Patrol said they couldn't accept new asylum cases for days or weeks to come.  But Mexican immigration authorities agreed to clear people from the bridge and move them to shelters in Juarez, while they wait for a turn at seeking asylum in the U.S.

Immigration attorneys in El Paso say it's not true that CPB can't accommodate the new arrivals every day, and the agency is merely trying to discourage people from getting on U.S. soil, where they have a right to request asylum.  They say CPB officers have also been "pre-screening" people on the bridge, and telling them that they don't have the correct documentation for an asylum claim and they should go home.

The protestors will also volunteer at shelters in El Paso, which are overwhelmed with new migrants who have gotten through the roadblocks, and have been released by ICE pending a court date before an immigration judge.

Immigration attorneys say 99% of the asylum cases are now being denied, because of directives from former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who said those fleeing domestic violence and gang violence are no longer eligible for asylum in the U.S.  Immigration judges are also not permitting many people to file appeals.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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