News sources have widely reported that beginning in 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began expelling from the United States immigrant women who recently gave birth, as well as their U.S. citizen infants. These actions were part of the former administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which, among other things, intentionally separated thousands of families at the border. Regardless of any right to asylum, these women were expelled from the country days after giving birth. Even though their U.S-born children would have been U.S. citizens, many mothers were not even given birth certificates for their children. Making matters worse, these women were often forced into dangerous conditions, having to sleep in shelters or on the streets in Mexico with their newborns.
It was unlike any courtroom I had seen before. The Immigration Judge appeared on a video screen a little blurry but larger than life. My client, an eight-year-old girl, sat next to me at a long table. This proceeding in Dilley, Texas was not open to the public but was held behind two locked doors in a trailer secured within a sprawling “family residential center” that despite its friendly name, had all the indicia of a jail.
This was an expedited removal proceeding, and I was appealing an asylum officer’s negative credible fear determination for my young client. Her mother’s appeal already had been denied so this was our last chance to prevent the two from being deported. Especially considering my client’s age, I wanted to marshal the evidence and explain why the legal standard had been met in this case. “May I be heard Your Honor?” I asked. “No, you may not,” he responded. The Judge asked my client a few questions with little follow-up and denied the appeal, wishing my client, “good luck in your home country.”