Summer Monsoon Moon
Sad. Mad. Incredulous. Shocked. Mystified. Hurt. The Florence Project. Kate and I went to Beth Evergreen last night to hear Valentina Montoya*. She’s a mental health attorney for the project, which means that her clients are not only caught in the detention trap, but have serious mental illness as well.
Reading about family separation, shaking our heads, how can they? That’s one experience. Hearing Ms. Montoya talk about children in detention, five month olds, toddlers, blind children, physically and mentally disabled children, children who have no apparent medical care or educational opportunities, children who know their parents as mama and daddy, but don’t know their given names, children separated from their parents with no tracking or identifying system in place, one four-year old boy, for example, who refused to change his clothes because he was afraid his parents wouldn’t recognize him, that’s another.
Ms. Montoya became too emotional to talk. Several times. She answered question after question from this audience of maybe 75 people, all outraged, most wanting to do something. Kate stood up and asked what kind of medical care did these children receive? Ms. Montoya said no particular medical care was available. That means diabetes goes untreated. Other chronic conditions, too. Another asked what kind of education the kids were getting? Ms. Montoya said, “The kids speak Spanish; all the guards and caretakers speak English.”
This was an especially poignant topic for Beth Evergreen. As Renee said, “I’m a child of holocaust survivors. I’m uniquely qualified to call these what they are, concentration camps.” I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s true. No Zyklon B. For now. But, as Renee said, “If they can come for them, they can come for me. Maybe next, maybe three, four down the line.”
Here’s a thing I’d not paid attention to in the news reports. The families separated in Florence, Arizona, a distant, isolated location for an ICE detention facility (not an accident) are asylum seekers. That means they came to a U.S. port of entry and, as required by our law, asked for asylum. These are legal immigrants who have fled horrific conditions of gang violence, local drug cartels, domestic abuse, government oppression and seek refuge here. Let me say that again, these folks are LEGAL immigrants.
The bad elf, Jeff Sessions, has done everything he can to undercut the law by, for example, offering a biblical rationale for family separation, trying to defund basic legal orientation services. DHS lawyers raise jurisdictional issues in immigration proceedings to obfuscate and extend detention proceedings.
Part of the problem for legal projects like Florence and Rocky Mountain Immigration Advocates is immigration law itself. It’s a hodgepodge of laws, rules, exceptions that have accreted like barnacles over the years, making it an area of the law for which even its specialists can claim only partial knowledge. That means even willing pro bono lawyers are often not competent to help. This makes it even easier for mendacious buffoons like Trump, Sessions and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Michele Nielsen to throw forks and knives into the wheels of justice.
It was, all in all, a heart rending evening. Unimaginable suffering. Detention is different from prison. In prison you know when you’re going to get out. Detention is indeterminant. Until Sessions quashed it, each detainee used to get a bond hearing every six months. That hearing at least offered a review of your circumstances and a possibility of release. With that bond hearing eliminated, there is no legal requirement for a time certain when your case will be heard. If at all. This out Kafka’s Kafka. And, it is definitely, a first step toward Nazi area solutions for folks we don’t like.
*Valentina Restrepo Montoya was born in Boston to Colombian-immigrant parents. She earned her J.D. from Berkeley Law, where she advocated on behalf of asylum seekers, latinx workers, latinx tenants, and indigent defendants in criminal cases. Valentina clerked for The Southern Center for Human Rights, where she investigated language access to adult and juvenile courts. After law school, she joined The Southern Poverty Law Center, dedicating herself to litigation against The Alabama Department of Corrections for providing constitutionally inadequate medical and mental health care to prisoners, and not complying with The Americans with Disabilities Act. Prior to joining The Florence Project, Valentina was an assistant public defender in Birmingham, Alabama. She enjoys playing soccer, reading The New Yorker, practicing intersectional feminism, and rooting for The New England Patriots.