It has been a week since the favorable ruling on DACA, and I haven’t really had time to process my emotions. I just think about all of the hours spent on advocacy, the DACA recipients I’ve met, the stories, the people who were left out, and the deportations. But I’ve mostly thought about the organizers who fought for us to get DACA. Many of the DACA recipients today were too young to help when the organizing and advocacy were happening for DACA. Wanna know what I was doing when thousands of organizers forced President Obama to sign the executive order? I was preparing to participate in a sit-in at Obama’s campaign office in Cincinnati, OH. But at the last moment, I chickened out. I haven’t forgiven myself for doing that, especially because Marcos Saavedra, my activist mentor, participated yet didn’t apply for DACA.
My lifetime work in the immigration reform movement has left me numbed and filled with spiritual battle scars. A therapist told me once, “I think that’s your way of saying you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”
Most, if not all, asylum seekers have severe forms of PTSD and other mental trauma from the experiences they are trying to escape. Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that asylum seekers have no right to a federal court hearing if their claims have been denied by an immigration officer. In a 7-to-2 vote, the Court is allowing the Trump Administration to fast-track deportations of asylum seekers.
The Court’s ruling is the newest form of our government failing asylum seekers. Yesterday, the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights released a report titled, Family Separation is Not Over. The report shared how even after the Zero Tolerance Policy ended, children have continued being separated from their parents. The report notes, “Three instances in which family separation might still be permissible: danger to the child, communicable disease, and criminal history of the parent. Unfortunately, these factors were left vague and undefined, leaving wide room for interpretation.”
Meanwhile, thousands of asylum seekers are stuck awaiting their trials in the dangerous conditions of immigration detention centers. Many advocates, including our partners at the Kino Border Initiative, have expressed fears that detention centers will become the next hotbed of the spread of COVID-19. Since the Trump administration enacted the Remain in Mexico policy in January 2019, thousands more asylum seekers have been forced to live in appalling conditions in border cities in Northern Mexico. Since the start of the pandemic, the Trump Administration partially closed our borders to non-essential travel and is considering asylum seekers as non-essential travel.
Asylum seekers are fleeing horrible conditions in their home countries; many of those conditions were started and exacerbated by U.S. foreign policies. The Supreme Court decision doesn’t just deny an asylum seeker’s rights, it denies their humanity by not allowing them to fight the mishandling of their asylum case by an immigration officer. It sends the message from the U.S. government: “Tell them I don’t care if we were wrong, you’re not welcomed here.”
José Arnulfo Cabrera is the director of education and advocacy for migration for the Ignatian Solidarity Network. He is a 2018 graduate of Xavier University, a DACA recipient, and an immigration activist. He previously worked with the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he provided training on lobbying, organizing, and immigration policy, as well as shared his own immigration story, and as a government relations associate with NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice in Washington, D.C.