On May 7, 2018, the United States implemented the “zero tolerance” family separation policy, directing immigration authorities to systematically separate children from their parents at the border, a practice that had been ongoing as early as November 2017. The stated purpose of this policy was to deter future migrants from attempting to cross the border, including migrants seeking asylum in the United States fleeing violence or persecution in their home countries. Although the government formally ended the policy in June 2018 following widespread public outcry, many hundreds of children remain separated from their parents. To address this problem, on February 2, 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order in an effort to reunite children separated from their families at the United States-Mexico border. Numerous nonprofit agencies and law firms, including Proskauer, have stepped forward to help victims of family separation obtain humanitarian parole and become reunited with their families.
I vividly remember waiting impatiently for my “Fresh Air Fund Sister” to arrive that first summer. It was the summer of 1973. As a young child, it was impossible for me to imagine the girl who would be spending two weeks with us at our home in suburban New Jersey. We were told that she lived in Manhattan, and her name was Judy. She was three years older than I. Would she be taller than I was? Since she was a city girl, I was sure she would be wiser. I recall being more than a bit apprehensive, with butterflies in my stomach. I also couldn’t imagine that she wanted to spend two weeks out of her own magical city. My town was a place where the mundane such as eating ice cream, seeing fireworks for the 4th of July and catching fireflies were the most memorable highlights of my suburban summers.
It turns out, she wanted that too. During that summer, and many summers after that, she joined my family. Our families kept in touch during the school year, we got to know Judy’s mother, and eventually Judy began spending winter break with us as well. Judy became a member of my family, and the experience of having an older sister from a different background and with a nearly opposite world view was one of the most impactful experiences of my life. It kindled within me a desire to learn about people. It taught me that a generous spirit is a gift to the giver even more than the receiver, and that no matter what our differences are, it is possible to take a deep dive and find a commonality that was hard to imagine could exist.
Off a side street in a small town in central Mexico, the shelter entrance was hard to find until we noticed a young family sitting under a tree near a gate with a worn sign welcoming “migrant brothers and sisters.” We walked through the gate into a dusty courtyard surrounded by makeshift structures in the shadow of a church, where we were greeted warmly by the shelter’s director. He explained they were currently accommodating approximately 30 migrants from Central America, and that we had just missed 120 others who left to catch the train going north. The shelter, with a staff of five and several volunteers in and out during the day, has served over 3,000 people so far this year. This is a substantial increase over last year, and most notably, they are serving an increasing number of families.
We spent last week in Mexico providing asylum presentations and individual consultations in partnership with the Institute for Women in Migration, IMUMI. The biggest takeaway from our experience was the prevalence of violence. Everyone described stories of domestic violence or gang violence (or both) in their home countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and the lack of any protection from government authorities. Everyone also described the great danger they faced along their journey through Mexico, detailing robberies, assaults and even an attempted kidnapping.
Menstrual equity. This term is likely one that you’ve never heard before. I hadn’t either, until I attended a discussion hosted by Her Justice, a non-profit that recruits caring, talented attorneys from New York City’s law firms, including Proskauer, to provide free legal assistance in the areas of family,…
Erin Callan Montella was the CFO of Lehman Brothers in the months before it collapsed in 2008. After leaving Wall Street, marrying and having a daughter, she wrote a memoir, Full Circle, about the balance between work and family. She and her husband have created a foundation to help practice that philosophy and help new mothers achieve that balance in their own lives.
Under The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, new mothers are allowed a minimum of 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave to care for and bond with their children, but many employers compensate their employees for only a small fraction of that time. As a result, many low- and moderate-income mothers are forced to return to work early.
The South Texas Family Residential Center here in Dilley, Texas is surrounded by metal fencing, video cameras, and tall light poles that you can see from miles away at night. The country’s largest immigration detention facility, it sprawls 50 acres and is comprised of 2,400 beds in a series of large barracks-style trailers which look eerily similar to pictures of the Japanese-American “relocation centers” during World War II.
I met more than 25 detained women and their children here. All are from El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala, and all but two suffered from some form of gang violence, severe domestic violence or in many cases, a combination of both. I heard stories from people who witnessed the murder of family members, and who themselves were subjected to unspeakable violent crime without protection from law enforcement.