“I’m going to ask everyone to close their eyes, and to take a deep breath. As your eyes are closed, place your hands on your laps.
Place the insides of your wrists together so that they are touching, and imagine the cold feel of metal handcuffs surrounding your wrists, a long chain linked to a heavy, thick chain of metal tightly wrapped around your waist.
I want you to think of a child in your life, and I want you to imagine that you have no idea where that child is. You are sitting in a cold courtroom filled with other adults, and the child you have protected on this long, arduous journey is gone.”
These are the words of Laura Peña, a visiting attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project where she advises and implements legal strategies to achieve family reunification for parents who were separated from their parents under “zero tolerance” prosecution of illegal entry against migrants.
During an October 18 event at Johns Hopkins SAIS hosted by The Big Picture, Peña discussed the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy on migrants crossing the border.
She offered a first-hand account of what human rights advocacy looks like on the ground, detailing stories of parents separated from young children and the needs of families in those situations.
“It’s talking to the most vulnerable people, whose rights are being violated by the state, gathering information, and assigning value to points of data that separately have no meaning but together breathe life into law and tell a story,” Peña stated.
A former immigration trial attorney at the Department of Homeland Security who also served as the U.S. Department of State, Peña drew linkages between foreign and domestic policies of the United States and Central American countries.
She realized how serious the problem was in Central America—gang members that had been deported from the United States were setting root in fragile institutions, and poised to become a national security threat.
To learn more, watch the event here and see photographs of the work of the Texas Civil Rights Project below.