August 13 2018

So, a couple weeks back I blogged about my visit to the San Diego border with faith leaders from Faith in Action/PICO California – a visit that was a fascinating blend of both outrage and inspiration.  Outrage about what our federal government was doing to separate families seeking refuge or asylum, and inspiration about how leaders of our faith communities were mobilizing to give the issue more light and more voice.

This week, I joined a few dozen leaders in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector during a border visit sponsored and thoughtfully organized by Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) to further examine the situation affecting so many families and children.  We met with legal advocacy organizations and social services providers responding to the needs of impacted families through the San Diego Rapid Response Network coordinated by the ACLU.  We heard directly from families impacted by the crisis.  And, we attended court and administrative hearings where decisions about people’s lives were being made.  A cohort of our delegation actually spent time on the Tijuana side of the border, gaining insights from that perspective.

We ended our day literally on the border at the famed Friendship Park in Imperial Beach, where a park originally designed to promote peace and solidarity has been hosting cross-border family and community gatherings for years.  The park just happens to be divided by a couple of rather foreboding fences, and heavily patrolled by Border Patrol officers on foot, on motorbikes, in SUVs, and in helicopters.

Highlighted observations from the day-long visit:

  • The families and children who have been separated from their loved ones are enduring a substantial degree of trauma – from this pediatrician’s perspective, the impact of which will be felt by these families for decades. The mental health and social service needs are truly, truly significant.
  • Legal representation – either from non-profit advocacy organizations or of the pro bono/voluntary type – is in very short supply. Support is needed to provide these organizations with the ability and capacity to identify, recruit, train, and support pro bono legal services for the families.  The data shared with us suggests that for effected families and children, there is a night-and-day difference in a courtroom or administrative hearing between walking in with an attorney at your side, versus no legal representation at all.  Without legal representation, the families have a roughly 80 percent chance of losing their case; having legal representation improves the outcomes significantly.
  • In a head-scratching and outrage-producing twist of fate, many families are being criminalized by our government for “the crime” of seeking asylum – which is — from a human rights perspective — reasonable, just, fair, and appropriate.
  • Lastly, as the San Diego-Tijuana border crisis also includes many asylum-seekers from Haiti – whose situation is simply dire — I experienced a grim reminder of the matter and role of race in this immigration crisis. It is impossible to dismiss the notion that black and brown lives simply matter less in the eyes of our federal government.  The massive, national criminalization of African-Americans as policy during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s-90’s drove mass incarceration policies in the decade that followed, and now followed by the deportation-criminalization policies and practices that view brown families as less than fully human.

God bless the work of the ACLU and the multiple legal advocacy, social service, and faith organizations we met during our visit, providing light and warmth to the families and children affected by this crisis.

A timely wake-up call to those of us in private foundations – a moment for us to act, and not merely research and analyze.

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