Seattle-area immigrant advocates, faith leaders and others said they were glad no more families would be separated at the border, most were wary of what happens now.
Yesenia Castillo-Colindres finally got to see her 5-year-old nephew’s face Wednesday. Connecting through a video call, she was relieved to see he was smiling, despite being held in a Texas facility after being separated from his mom, who is in the custody of immigration authorities in Washington state.
Told that President Donald Trump had just signed an executive order that would now detain families together, she was hopeful. While Castillo-Colindres has applied to have her nephew released to her home in California, she said she would be fine with his being reunited with his mom, Ibis Obeida Guzman Colindres, in detention. At least they would be together, she said.
When interviewed last week, Guzman Colindres, then among roughly 200 people transferred by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, hadn’t heard her son’s voice for a month because of trouble calling him from the prison. The 25-year-old mom, from Honduras, was transferred Wednesday to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, along with several others from the SeaTac facility.
But the executive order said nothing about whether families already separated would be reunited. It was one of the many questions local immigrant advocates, faith leaders and others had about the executive order. While all said they were glad no more families would be separated at the border, most were wary of what happens now.
“That’s not the solution we’re looking for,” said Jorge Barón, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP).
For one thing, he maintained that detaining families indefinitely is illegal because of the 1997 “Flores” consent decree that held children can be held in such confinement for only 20 days. President Barack Obama also tried to hold families together indefinitely, and that policy was found to violate the consent decree, Barón pointed out.
The executive order directs the attorney general to ask the U.S. District Court in California, which handled the Flores case, to modify the decree. Barón said he was dubious that the court would do so.
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who in recent weeks said he was looking into a lawsuit to stop family separations, said Wednesday that he would immediately review the executive order.
The American Civil Liberties Union still intends to pursue its federal class-action lawsuit over family separations in California because the litigation, in part, seeks reunification for those already affected, and the executive order does not do that, according to Washington state chapter spokesman Doug Honig.
NWIRP is representing many of the parents who are being held locally after being separated from their children. While precise numbers have been hard to come by, Barón said his best guess is that there are about 50 such parents.
Their children are being held in New York, Arizona and Texas. Will Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fly parents to where their children are, Barón asked. Or will they release them at the doors of the SeaTac and prison and leave them to try to pick up their own children?
“The administration did this without thinking, and now they’re probably not thinking, either,” he said.
Things were moving so quickly Wednesday that ICE had few answers. A spokeswoman emailed a preliminary statement, crafted before the president’s latest announcement, but said another could be coming soon.
The preliminary statement said: “ICE will make every effort to reunite the child with the parent once the parent’s immigration case has been adjudicated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and/or the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).”
Normally, it can take many months, or even years, for a case to move through the backlogged immigration system.
Trump’s family separation policy sparked widespread outrage, including from evangelical leaders considered a key part of his base.
Just days ago, Rich Stearns, president of World Vision, a Christian relief agency in Federal Way, tweeted, “I don’t care where you stand on immigration America – but tearing young children out of the arms of their mothers and then warehousing them in ‘camps’ is sickening.”
Stearns said Wednesday said he was “encouraged to see Congress and the President working to bring a compassionate response that keeps families and children together.”
But he continued, “We hope the swift political will and the coming together of all parties extends to reuniting families and supporting the children who have already been impacted.”
Joseph Castleberry, president of Northwest University, a Christian school in Kirkland, said keeping families in detention “is not ideal.” He has often criticized conditions in private facilities like the Northwest Detention Center, where detainees have held a series of hunger strikes to protest what they said was inadequate food and jobs that pay $1-a-day.
He also said that there are legitimate asylum-seekers coming here from Central America, and that automatic detention and criminal prosecution, as the Trump administration has been doing, is “draconian.”
Still, Castleberry said family detention “is better than what we’re doing at this moment.” He added, “It’s laudable President Trump has stepped up to show he going to pursue his agenda with compassion.”
Some aren’t just waiting to see what the president will do. About 250 people gathered Wednesday at St. Marks Episcopal Cathedral on Capitol Hill to find out about separated families and how they could help, according to Michael Ramos, executive director of The Church Council of Greater Seattle.
“We got word in the middle of the meeting that an (executive) order was pending,” Ramos said.
It did not diffuse the crowd’s energy. After a briefing by NWIRP and other groups, people signed up to provide various kinds of support: money for legal help and phone cards for those in detention; short-term housing should they be released; companionship or counseling for those in distress.
Apart from anything Trump is doing, parents in detention could be released on bond by an immigration judge. Guzman Colindres’ attorney, Stephanie Martinez of NWIRP, said she plans to pursue that option but needs to wait until her client has been through a “credible fear” interview, the first step in applying for asylum.
Meanwhile, a march is still planned for Thursday night to support migrant families. Beginning at 7 p.m., it will start at St. Mark’s, 1245 10th Ave. E., and proceed to St. James Cathedral, 804 Ninth Ave., on First Hill.