Project Reunite Families

No one has the right to separate a child from the parent they love.  Nobody!

LPC Project Reunite Families aims to reunify the children of deported parents with their mothers and fathers.  LPC seeks a Presidential Executive Order to expedite the reunification of the estimated 46,000 children misappropriated by county foster care agencies – due to ICE deportation raids.

Although the Latino Policy Coalition strongly supports several pending bills that attempt to halt current practices whereby United States citizen and immigrant children, become permanently separated from their rightful parents – these legislative initiatives are not enough.

We believe that all federal and state bills on this matter need to acknowledge more forcefully, that these de facto misappropriations of children from their parents violate the fundamental human rights of parents and children; and violate many international treaties of which the U.S. is a signatory.

Latino community leaders need to organize for a national and international process to reunify families that are currently in this deplorable situation.

Future strategies need to contain Habeas Corpus demands and/or the demand for a Presidential Executive Order to expedite the reunification these estimated 46,000 children with their parents. We hope you will join in on this vital mission.

Read LPC complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Council by clicking here

LPC is chaired by former San Francisco Supervisor, Jim Gonzalez the author of the nation’s first City of Sanctuary Ordinance (1989) to protect immigrant rights.

Project Reunite Families Initiatives:

  • LPC request to Dr. Navanethem Pillay for United Nations Writ of Habeas Corpus Action: Misappropriation of the Children of Undocumented Immigrants in the United States of America.
  • LPC request to President Barack Obama for Executive Order: Reunite Children Separated from Detained/Deported Immigrant Parents.
  • LPC presents Shattered, a short film by Jaime Gonzalez.  Shattered is the dramatic story of a young mother and her two children, caught up in the mass separation of tens of thousands of American born children from their deported parents.

Recent Updates:

  • Jan. 9, 2013 Read Maria Clara Martin, Chief, Section Americas, Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the High Commissioner for Human Rights thank you letter to LPC for sharing the dvd copy of the short film Shattered.
  • August 16, 2012 Read the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Dr. Navanethem Pillay’s response to LPC’s request for United Nations Writ of Habeas Corpus Action.

Univision Interview with Jim Gonzalez, LPC Chair:

Featured Articles

America’s deportation machine

Feb 8th 2014 | SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS |The Economist

IT IS the drowsy after-lunch slot in one of San Antonio’s immigration courts, housed anonymously on the third floor of a squat brown office building, when the case of Pedro Rochas begins. Most of the men who appear before immigration courts tend to favour hardly worn suits with matching shoes, as if going to church. Mr Rochas, a slight 33-year-old, is dressed less smartly in jeans and a red sweatshirt. He came to America at 16 and works as a part-time cook in a retirement home in Cedar Park, a town on the outskirts of Austin, where he met his wife. They have three children, all born in America. The offence that placed Mr Rochas in court on a cold day just before Thanksgiving was the purchase of a Social Security card, which allowed him to get work. He will probably be deported for it.


Last year America removed 369,000 undocumented migrants, an increase of nine times compared with 20 years ago (see chart 1). This takes the total number of the deported to almost 2m in Barack Obama’s presidency.

While this has been going on, the number of people entering America illegally via the south-western border has dropped. There are no official numbers on how many people become illegal immigrants by overstaying their visas. But the data that are collected, combined with estimates to fill the gaps, suggest that in the past couple of years, for the first time since people started to talk about illegal migration, the outflow has been greater than the inflow.

On one measure this is a great success. It is hard to find many areas where the federal government is so effective in implementing laws passed by Congress. Yet it is harmful—not just for the deported, who often have a miserable time once they are expelled , but for the country they leave behind, something which even the deporters have come to recognise.

It is also a political problem for Mr Obama. The president was heckled while giving a speech on immigration in California in November by a man who shouted that he had the authority to halt the deportations and ought to use it. “Actually, I don’t,” replied Mr Obama: an unusual thing for a president to say. At the other end of the political spectrum, his administration is criticized for not deporting enough people. When the deportation numbers for 2013 were released Bob Goodlatte, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said that the slight decline compared with the year before was “just more evidence that the Obama administration refuses to enforce our immigration laws.”

How has a president who campaigned hard on migration reform come to preside over the expulsion of more migrants than ever? The government has long had the authority to expel undocumented migrants, but deporting them all is impractical (there are reckoned to be 11.7m). It has therefore chosen to concentrate on getting rid of criminals. This category is more elastic than it might seem. It was expanded in 1996, when a Republican-controlled Congress passed a tough immigration law and illegal border crossings were running at four times their current level.

That law reclassified several misdemeanors, as “aggravated felonies” if they were committed by an illegal immigrant, lowering the legal barriers to deportation.

The expanded list included stumbles that undocumented migrants are quite likely to make, such as failing to appear in court or having fake papers. It also removed time limits on these offences, so that crimes committed by teenagers could lead to deportation 20 years later. One government lawyer in San Antonio says that some of the cases he argues stretch back decades. “You can be in your 40s or 50s and have a marijuana conviction from 20 years ago and be deported for it,” explains Doris Meissner of the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute.


The effects of this change in the law were limited at first. The year after it passed 115,000 people were deported. This is because the means to enforce it were not available. That changed after the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks when, by an odd jump of logic, a mass murder committed by mostly Saudi terrorists resulted in an almost limitless amount of money being made available for the deportation of Mexican house-painters. America now spends more money on immigration enforcement than on all the other main federal law-enforcement agencies combined (see chart 2).

Much of that spending has created a border agency that can operate throughout the country. Before the September 11th 2001 attacks it was considered a threat to liberty for agencies to share too much information. After the report of the 9/11 Commission the opposite became true. The result is that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency charged with doing the deporting, can now quickly determine whether someone serving a prison sentence for a serious crime is eligible to be deported when their time is up. More controversially, it also allows ICE to see whether someone charged by the police with relatively minor offences can also be deported.

Of the 369,000 people deported last year, roughly two-thirds were people who had been stopped while trying to cross the border. The rest—134,000 of them—were picked up in the interior of the country. One of them was Adrian Revuelta, 29, who had lived in Oklahoma for ten years and worked at IHOP, a pancake house, before being deported for driving without a license. In jail, he says, his documents were torn up and his contact numbers, jacket and cap were thrown in the bin. Worst of all was his criminal record: “It means I can never go back.” Yet all the time, he says, his brain is full of memories of his friends and colleagues in Oklahoma. On Face book, he winces when people he knows talk about meeting at Denny’s, or to play soccer. “It is like a knife stuck in my side,” he says. “The way you are treated is not human.”

The turning of police officers into immigration officials has brought border enforcement into areas of the country far from the deserts of the south-west. Secure Communities, the name given to the program that links police work to the immigration database, began life in a single jurisdiction in Texas in 2008 at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency. By May 2013 it was operating everywhere.

This worries some policemen. “I would sooner see Secure Communities go away,” says Mark Curran, an Illinois sheriff. He thinks that the program makes policing harder because it erodes trust between his officers and the people they are supposed to police. Anecdotal evidence suggests that people are more likely to flee the scene of a car crash in places where there are lots of undocumented migrants to avoid being asked for their papers. Some people take more drastic steps to avoid triggering a match on the database. In November ICE arrested a doctor in Boston who flew in regularly from the Dominican Republic to alter fingerprints. A full set of unrecognizable fingertips cost $4,500.

While the police have been tracking down migrants, the Department for Homeland Security has continued to raid workplaces and audit companies to see if they employ undocumented workers. In November Infosys, an Indian IT firm, agreed to pay fines of $34m for immigration offences. Farmers who need lots of pairs of hands to pick things are favorite targets for these checks. Maureen Torrey, a farmer in New York State, says her business has been subjected to aggressive raids by immigration officials. Last year officers turned up at 6.30am and removed 44 workers to check their status. They were eventually dropped off at a 7-Eleven store two hours from the farm.

Who’ll pick America’s spinach now?

As the system for tracking people down has become more powerful, there has been a huge increase in the number of plaintiffs appearing before immigration courts. Some 1.1m people are somewhere on the docket: that is nearly 5,000 immigration cases per judge. More than half of all federal prosecutions are now for immigration-related offences. To deal with this overload, courts have sprung up all over the place: close to the border, but also in Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and New Jersey. They all have the same blue carpets, dark wood benches and American flags, identikit outposts of the Justice Department tucked away unannounced in office buildings.

The system does a good job of giving each plaintiff a decent hearing. One typical day in the San Antonio court featured a Vietnamese woman, married to an American citizen, fighting deportation, a young couple hoping to get married soon, and a man who had a conviction for abandoning a child. The judges were patient and, working through interpreters, did their best to render legalese into plain English. This lent the process a certain dignity, but in most cases the outcome was clear from early on.

In the holding pens

The number of people deported is largely determined by the number of beds available in detention centers, which are the holding pens for the people America expels. Each year Congress mandates funding for a certain number of beds for immigration detention and stipulates that the occupancy rate must be kept high. In 2013 that number was 34,000. The president asks for less funding in his budgets but Congress gives him more, such is the political appeal of spending on border security.

Some of these places are run by private companies for ICE, like the one in Pearsall, a small Texas town decorated with churches, car-parts shops and a high-school football field. The facility can house up to 1,800 men at any one time, sleeping on iron bunk-beds in dormitories of up to 100. This is not a prison but it has few windows, is surrounded by fences topped with razor wire and is run by the GEO Group, a company that also runs prisons.

The Pearsall detention facility is quiet inside, apart from the noise of thick metal doors opening and closing. A manager explains that the color scheme, mostly khaki, has been carefully chosen to keep the inmates calm. More people spend time in such places in any given year than serve time in federal prisons. Housing them all cost $2 billion in 2012, or nearly $5,000 per person deported.

Even with all this funding, the beds the government is mandated to provide exceed the number of places available in detention facilities, so the excess are housed in ordinary prisons. In other words, they are locked up with ordinary felons. The requirement to keep the beds filled means that as soon as one group of people are deported another arrives to replace them. On the day your correspondent visited the Pearsall detention centre the occupancy rate had dipped to 95%, so the staff was expecting a new delivery of people. The average length of stay in these places before deportation is about a month. Multiply the number of beds by 12 and you get close to the number of people deported each year.

In the Pearsall facility the men wear color-coded boiler-suits: blue for minor offences, orange for mid-level ones and red for the most serious offenders. The government is keen to focus its efforts on serious criminals, the red boiler-suits, and boot them back over the border. But in the Pearsall detention centre there are a lot of people wearing blue. TRAC, a database maintained by Syracuse University of each case that comes before the courts, shows that just one in seven filings to deport is based on allegations of criminal activity.

The government has to make sure that the countries where detainees were born will have them back. In rare cases this proves impossible. Families for Freedom, an NGO, say it is working with a Kenyan man who has been in immigration detention in New York for eight years. From the detention centers the deportees are rounded up and put on planes. ICE has its own air operations division which flew 44 charter flights a week in 2013, and runs a daily flight to deposit people in Central America. When flying to more unusual destinations, an ICE agent will babysit the deportee on a commercial flight.

This is a remarkable feat of logistics. And yet it could be more extensive. It would take many more years of deportations running at their current level to remove all 11.7m undocumented migrants. Yet most Americans think this is unrealistic, a view shared by those doing the deporting. “You cannot enforce your way out of this problem,” says an ICE official. “Nobody is more convinced of the need for immigration reform than us. Our people want to be doing law enforcement.”

The great expulsion which America is carrying out is removing some people who have committed violent crimes. But it is also expelling economic migrants, some of whom have been working in America for decades, and splitting up families. In the two years to September 2012, 205,000 parents were deported.

Judges do have the discretion to halt a deportation if it will cause extraordinary distress to the family. But in the case of Mr Rochas, the care-home worker, the distress of his wife and children, who face growing up without their father, was of the ordinary variety; and besides, the clemency quota had been filled already.

Josue and Beth
By Juanita Molina
Executive Director, Humane BordersBorder Action Network

September 1, 2011, was hot in Tucson, 108 degrees, and the Tohono O’odham Nation is hotter by several degrees.  That’s the day that Josue Oliva started the final leg of his 1,600-mile journey from Honduras to be reunited with his wife Beth, five-year old daughter Fiorella, and two-year old son Dangello, in Oklahoma City.  His group of twenty crossed into the United States onto the Tohono O’odham Nation but, within hours, several in his group ran out of water.  Desperation overcame reason and Josue refilled his water bottles from a cattle pond.  That evening, five from the group decided to give themselves over to the Border Patrol, including Josue’s brother, Gerardo, who pleaded with Josue not to continue.  Josue replied, “I want to be with my family.”

Josue met Beth in Florida, where they both attended the same church.  Their shared beliefs connected them and they married.  They had two children and decided to move to Oklahoma for work.  Beth is a U.S. citizen, but because of changes in the law, she was unable to secure legal status for Josue even though they were legally married.  This created a precarious existence that weighed heavy on their minds.  They even discussed returning to Honduras but knew that their opportunities as a family would be limited by poverty and lack of access to education and resources.  Beth thought she could better facilitate the return to Honduras if she had a profession.  She decided she would pursue an education in medicine and hoped that this career would eventually afford her family better opportunities in Honduras.  Unfortunately, they did not have enough time to accomplish their goals.  In February of this year, Josue’s car was struck by another driver.  Even though he was not at fault and no one was injured, law enforcement discovered his undocumented status, and he was deported back to Honduras.

Beth said from the moment he was deported, they tried to find a way to be together again. She went to Honduras to see him in May, and they discussed their options. As a young father, Josue was desperate to be reunited with his children.  He decided he could not be away from his family any longer and would cross again.  Beth pleaded with him to wait, but he had already made up his mind.  He began the arduous 900-mile journey from Honduras to Nogales, Mexico.  Josue and Beth stayed in close contact until he crossed into the United States on Thursday, September 1, and then the communication stopped.  On Tuesday, September 5, a friend who had crossed with Josue called Beth and told her that Josue had fallen behind and was left by the group.

Within hours, Beth and her sister-in-law, Elizabeth, were on their way driving to Arizona to look for Josue.  Beth called everyone she could imagine for help.  There were serious limitations regarding what could be done, as Josue was left behind on the Tohono O’odham Nation and several days had passed before he was reported missing.  She contacted the Honduran Consulate, which, on Friday September 9, put her in touch with Mike Wilson, a Tohono O’odham tribal member and volunteer with Humane Borders. Mike and his partner Susan offered their home to Beth and Elizabeth to stay while in Tucson. Their home became the base to organize a search party.

On Saturday, September 10, Beth received permission from the Baboquivari District council to search for her husband on their land.  Beth knew a name of a crossing where the friend who had survived the journey said they had crossed. From that point, Mike estimated the route the border crossers had taken.  With the help of volunteers from the Tohono O’odham Nation, they search for him for three days.

I spoke with Beth a few hours before they found Josue.  Beth held hope that he would be found alive because she imagined her strong, young husband could withstand any obstacle. Few can imagine an area where there is virtually no water and the temperatures are so extreme that a healthy young man can die in the span of a couple of days.  This is particularly pertinent to migrants coming from Central America.  Many of them arrive to Mexico dehydrated and weak and then start the next part of their journey: crossing the Arizona desert.

The group of migrants who accompanied Josue said after he drank contaminated water from the cattle pond he fell ill.  Humane Borders has repeatedly been denied permission to establish water stations on the Tohono O’odham Nations and it is nearly impossible to carry enough water to complete this journey during the harsh summer months.  The migrants who traveled with him said he got weaker in the heat and that he finally succumbed.  A few stayed with him, closing his eyes once he died and said a prayer before they continued on.

On September 13, tribal member David Garcia, hiking ahead of the search party, found Josue’s remains.  It had been only 11 days since he had been left behind, but his remains were already too decomposed for visual identification. He was taken to the office of the Pima County Medical Examiner, where his identity was confirmed. The Honduran Consulate facilitated his cremation, and the family returned to Oklahoma.

Beth continues to cope with her sadness, but says the hardest part is explaining to her children that their father will not be returning.  She said her daughter regularly asks “When will Daddy be back?”  The family was hopeful they would be reunited when he decided to cross, but this tragedy has taken his life.  Although she is too young to understand her father has passed, Fiorella understands the love and devotion that fueled her father’s final actions.

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