HARLINGEN, TX — With immigrant family reunifications underway across the country, advocates and pro-bono attorneys are working around the clock scrambling to help hundreds of detained parents with their court cases.
Many asylum seekers are left to fend for themselves.
Behind each one of the immigrant family reunifications is someone who’s helped them navigate an often complex immigration system.
“I think my long-term goal is to work on migration policy,” said Florida native Elizabeth Coffin-Karlin, a Harvard law and public policy student.
The 29-year-old is spending her summer at the southern border helping asylum seekers.
“I’ve been to the detention center a few dozen times at this point,” she said.
The KENS 5 Border Team met Coffin-Karlin at the Port Isabel Detention Center, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s largest facility. It’s located in Los Fresnos, Texas, where hundreds of immigrant adults are detained without their children while they fight for their asylum case.
“It’s very difficult to see, on a day-to-day basis, all of the small errors that can lead someone to not being released,” Coffin-Karlin said. “Very small errors can have someone deported and potentially risk their life or their child’s life, and that’s very scary to see.”
The most recent study by Syracuse University shows that 61.8 percent of the 30,179 asylum cases in 2017 were denied, while 20 percent of the total didn’t have representation. The top five countries with denial rates of 74.5 percent or higher include Mexico, Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
“When I first met her, she was so emotional. That’s all she could talk about, obviously, was the separation,” Harlingen immigration attorney Thelma Garcia said.
Garcia represents Cindy Madrid, who says that her 6-year-old daughter Alison is heard in an audio recording published by ProPublica last month, begging for her mom and aunt after being separated.
Cindy and Alison were reunited Friday morning in Houston but their fight isn’t over. Garcia said that the Trump administration is making it harder for people like her client to win an asylum case and that more attorneys and advocates are needed to guide these families.
“I believe that part of the new policy that the administration is now talking about is people that did come in illegally and were convicted, that they should use that as a negative for granting asylum,” Garcia said.
In June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced domestic violence or gang violence would no longer be considered for asylum. Precedents like these are what Coffin-Karlin believes could affect future asylum seekers for generations to come.
“I think people are really focusing on the short term,” Coffin-Karlin said. “But the long-term effects, to me, are even scarier.”