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Fighting for ALL children: The Florence Project sheds light on family separations in Arizona

Migrant families are still being separated in many instances at the border, according to Arizona-based The Florence Project. Here, the U.S. Border Patrol in Texas processes border crossers. Photo courtesy of U.S. Border Patrol.

For months, many parents have felt powerless as children and babies entering the United States with their families have been physically torn from their parents’ arms and placed in child detention facilities. The practice of family separations for migrants at the border has prompted nonpartisan organizations that advocate for children to take a stand.

The American Academy of Pediatrics — an organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians and pediatric specialists — and Highlights, a popular children’s magazine, both have issued statements in recent months about the serious trauma inflicted by inhumane policies.

In Arizona, the situation became even harder to ignore as news reports surfaced of neglect and abuse at facilities holding immigrant and refugee children near the border and in greater Phoenix. While many groups are trying to help, some local volunteers declined a request to discuss their work, citing intimidation and threats from racist groups.

The Arizona-based Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project sees the effects of family separations daily. The nonprofit organization provides free legal and social services to detained men, women and children. Laura Belous, advocacy attorney at The Florence Project, answered our questions about the situation at the border and offered thoughts on what Arizona parents can do to stand against cruelty to all children:

The Trump administration has stated it would reverse its family separations policy, but are children still being taken from their parents at the border? Unfortunately, we are still seeing cases of children being separated from their parents or primary caregivers at the border. While we cannot speculate to what the motivations for these separations are, we do know that separating children from their parents or caregivers inflicts life-long trauma.

What ages are the children you’re helping? We provide free legal and social services to children who are in immigration shelters in the Phoenix or Tucson areas or who have been released to sponsors in Arizona. Our youngest clients are just a few months old. We also work with lots of youth in their teens.

How has your work changed in recent years? In the last several years, our work has changed in several ways. First of all, immigration detention has expanded, and people are being detained for longer periods of time with fewer options for release. Our clients tell us that detention is traumatic and dehumanizing. Secondly, the policies of the current administration have led to cases that last for much longer periods of time and are much more complicated to win. In the last several years, immigration policy has been arbitrary and punitive, and anti-immigrant rhetoric has created fear in our communities.

Can you talk about the overall challenges and one or two cases that stand out? The challenges we’ve faced in the last few years have been numerous. Anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy changes have made our work much more complicated and emotionally exhausting. Additionally, detention in Arizona has expanded and the separation of families and the detention of young children has been traumatic for our clients and our staff. These challenges make victories even more meaningful. For example, we were recently able to obtain legal status for three brothers who had been detained for more than two years and separated for some of that time. All three are incredibly smart and hard-working. Seeing those clients enroll in high school in the community and fulfill their dream of being together was something that was really moving to all of us.

What does The Florence Project need to continue its work? Funds? Supplies? Donations! Your support provides legal services to detained children and adults in Arizona. When you invest in The Florence Project, you provide “know your rights” presentations to children and adults in immigration detention, and you provide life-saving legal and social services.

What else can Arizona moms and dads do to help? Talk to your children about immigration and explain to them that families like theirs are seeking safety and refuge. If your children are interested in helping, help them organize a bake sale or lemonade stand, and they can donate the proceeds.

Kara G. Morrison is the editor of Raising Arizona Kids and the mother of Sofia (7) Reach her at kara@rakmagazine.com.



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