Lawyer for separated families fears there are horrors to come in Trump's new order

Lawyer Linda Rivas, who represents mothers who have been separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border, fears President Trump's latest executive order paves the way for detaining whole families indefinitely.

Linda Rivas is concerned that indefinite detention for children is the administration's next move

Lawyer Linda Rivas represents mothers who have been separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Submitted by Linda Rivas)

On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump announced an executive order to stop separations and instead detain families together.

For lawyer Linda Rivas, who represents mothers who have been separated from their children, it was far from good news. 

She told Carol Off about the desperation of her clients, and about her concerns around what the Trump administration's new order could mean for them. 

Here is part of that conversation.

While signing the executive order, President Trump said 'we're going to have a lot of happy people' as a result of this. Would the mothers you are working with be included with those happy people?

I don't think so. Unfortunately now we're shifting from ripping children away from their parents to an idea of detaining families together, which we are also against. There's also no formal plan for reunification. I do not believe that will be a policy anytime soon and there's still 2,300 kids that have been separated under this administration.

Will this order keep families together?

Well, without knowing too much about the details, it's hard to really trust anything coming out of this administration. They had the ability to never do this in the first place. We are very fearful in the advocacy community to see increased detention of families, together or not. It is traumatizing for a child to be put in jail. And that is the fear — that the next step for this administration is to jail these families together.

Rivas estimates that 2300 children have been separated from their families in the last handful of months. (CBP/Reuters)

You have been working with with many [families], but I want to ask you about a mother named Ana Rivera.

When we met Ana, she had just found out that she was pregnant and she was separated from her five-year-old son. She was on the verge of being deported, potentially without her son. And she was terrified that that would happen.

Where is she being held?

She's at the El Paso processing centre. That's an ICE-run facility for the detention of migrants.

And what will her fate be?

She will be deported very soon, maybe as early as tomorrow [Thursday]. But we don't have any guarantee from her officers that her child will be going with her. Although luckily, under their own discretion, they have told me that they were going to try. That's not always the case.

I've been working as an attorney now for four years and working with this particular local ICE agency and hoping to appeal to their humanity. Not everyone is going to have an advocate to do this, and not every deportation officer, given that they don't have any rule or policy dictating them to work on reunification, we don't know that they're going to try and do this. And again, no one can guarantee me that the child would actually be going with her.

Where is her son?

Well that's not for certain. I heard potentially Detroit. Ana is under the impression that he's now in El Paso and really we don't have that confirmation as to where he is. I can tell you that that the positive thing is that Ana has been able to communicate with him, although limitedly. I'm not 100 per cent certain where the child is at this moment.

'This is a horrific new policy that we have never seen before. I think that the horrors that are happening right now are completely unprecedented,' said Rivas. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Can you describe what Ana told you about the moment of the separation from her child?

It was hard to really even interview Ana. She was shaking when I first met her, and just pleading to be deported with him. It was hard to determine how to even help her at the time just because she she was she was so frantic.

What are the chances that she is going to be sent back without that boy?

I don't know what the chances are, but I know that this has happened before and it continues to happen.

This is a horrific new policy that we have never seen before.- Linda Rivas

The advantage that Ana has and that is that she has an advocate: she has you. How many other people do not?

People are detained all over the country. Some people are detained in very remote areas. Access to attorneys is not common. And so I would say probably hundreds if not thousands of these parents are without representation.

Mr. Trump keeps referring to this as the same under Mr. Obama, [that] this has been going on for a long time. Some others are saying this has been going on for a long time. Have you ever seen this before?

No. There was the rare case under President Obama of family separation, and it typically had to do with a mismatch of documents. And at that time we were fighting against it. But it was rare. This is a horrific new policy that we have never seen before. I think that the horrors that are happening right now are completely unprecedented.

The reason why they're being separated is because, according to U.S. law, they can't be indefinitely detained as their parents are going to be. So what this order by Mr. Trump means is that now these children can be held in indefinite detention, as long as they're with their parents?  

Exactly. It advocates for the detention of children.

Interview produced by Imogen Birchard. Q&A edited for length and clarity.


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