Since 2014, these families and thousands of others were locked up in Texas prisons
Family detention comes to Massachusetts -The consequence of family detention is now touching Massachusetts: 100 Central American women and their children have successfully migrated to Massachusetts since last November, after being released from Texas prisons. Local advocacy groups, e.g., the Needham (Mass.) Area Immigration Justice Task Force, have responded. The facts are:
- Massachusetts accepts and resettles 2,000 or more registered refugees annually (approved to come to the U.S. by the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency).
- The influx of asylum seekers, in contrast, is brand-new to this state and the region.
- The families are ineligible for any public benefits or services.
- If they do not meet their obligations to the immigration court in Boston (filing an application for asylum and appearing when scheduled), they risk deportation.
- Presently, the families are required to report at least once every 3 weeks to “ISAP” (Intensive Supervision Appearance Program), an ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) unit in Burlington.
- Though ISAP has a mandate to “integrate” the families locally, the ISAP approach appears to be punitive. After paying high bond amounts to be released from prison, the women are required to wear heavy ankle shackles as if they are criminals. Thus, finding work is a shame-filled effort.
Families from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador – These families are asylum seekers, now in Massachusetts, who were imprisoned for many months in Texas after crossing the border to flee very dangerous conditions in their home countries, often called “The Northern Triangle.” A significant majority of the children involved are under 12 years of age, and they were imprisoned in Texas with their mothers.
Detention began in 2014, first at the Artesia prison in Texas (later closed) and then at Karnes and Dilley prisons on Texas. On a daily basis there are still 400-600 women and their children detained in the prisons. Yet, presently, rather than being imprisoned for a year or longer, the authorities are restricted to 10 to 20 days. Due to public pressures and a court order, more than 2,000 such families have already been released to rejoin friends or family members in the US. All have passed “the credible fear interview,” a legal process, which qualifies them for asylum consideration.
Needham Area Immigration Justice Task Force – This volunteer-based organization (Immigrantneedham.org) was founded in 2009 by Clark Taylor, PhD, a former faculty member at U. Mass. Boston and a resident of Needham, who is committed to advocating for US immigration reform. The Task Force has since drawn committed residents who volunteer their time locally and nationally to support efforts to extend the same human rights to immigrants that we – as citizens – take for granted.
The Irish International Immigrant Center – After carefully followed family detention in Texas, and the Task Force learned that families were being released and a portion migrating to this state in early 2015, the Task Force took action. Thus, in partnership with the Irish International Immigrant Center (IIIC), chosen because of its respected, historic capabilities in welcoming refugees, the Task Force raised funds to support a case manager position. Sofia Vergara, who began in mid-January 2017 and is employed by the IIIC, now ensures that they receive full welcome with all the needed support and services they require in their new homes.
The IIIC recognized that supporting Central American refugee women and their children released from detention in Texas became crucial in 2016 when a total of 100 families came to settle in Massachusetts. The IIIC is connecting families with the resources they need to stabilize their lives. In recent years, it is important to recognize that thousands of mothers and children have fled drug gangs, domestic violence and sexual assault and they are seeking safety in the US. They seek a new life in the US – steady jobs, school enrollment for their children, and resettlement into a new Boston area neighborhood.