Claudia Kolker, author of The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness and Hope, has been volunteering to help asylum-seekers on the U.S.-Mexico border navigate the legal process. She recently wrote this opinion piece for the Houston Chronicle:
I was standing in a trailer in South Texas, anxiously sipping from a Styrofoam coffee cup, when the lawyer rushed in. “Can you help?” she said. “There’s a 9-year-old who will not stop crying.”
It was a relief to face a problem I might be able to fix. I had spent that whole week in mid-July in this temporary building, interpreting for detained asylum seekers who had just been reunited with their children.
I’d volunteered there precisely to stop feeling helpless. Under the zero-tolerance immigration policy launched in April, all people who crossed the border without documents — even asylum seekers — were now treated as criminals. When parents went to court, their children were taken from them and placed in shelters.
Five months later, the family separation policy has been suspended, but thousands of children who have crossed the border are still held for long periods in detention centers and tent cities across the country. Though my understanding of asylum law was limited, I knew I wanted to help those kids. Most of all, I wanted to see what was going on for myself.
What I saw at the border was far worse than I imagined, not only because of what these families experienced, but because of what had happened to the American workers guarding them.