June 20 is World Refugee Day. Almost twenty years after the U.N. declared that on this day every year, we would honor refugees, we see staggeringly high numbers of people forced to flee their homes. There are almost 70 million forcibly displaced people around the world - and nearly half are kids. The numbers haven’t been this high since the Holocaust.
My 18 year-old daughter Ziva and I, and a group of amazing Alaska lawyers and interpreters just returned from working in a family detention center in Dilley, Texas. We spent a week with some of the most resilient, brave human beings we had ever met. Moms terrified for their children; kids terrified for their moms. They traveled, often by foot, through two or three countries, crossed rivers and deserts, and turned themselves in to U.S. border agents to plea for a safe haven, just as our laws require. This is their right under U.S. and international law - every single person on this planet has the right to ask for asylum.
These women tell horrific stories of violence to themselves and their children. One woman showed us the scars her husband left on her and on her child. Another pointed to each leg where she had been shot by a masked member of Barrio 18, one of the main gangs in the region. Another sat holding her 9-year-old child, a child whose eyes were devoid of hope. The mother recounted how gangs recruited her daughter to be their girlfriend and threatened her with rape and murder if she didn’t comply. These women were not much older than my daughter who sat with me, carefully interpreting every word they said so we could help as best we could.
After that, they are put into a fenced area in the hot sun, fed only two bologna sandwiches per day. Eventually, days later, they are transferred to an internment camp where they await a “credible fear interview” that will determine whether they will have the opportunity to plead their case in front of an immigration judge.
During that week we spent with these moms and their kids, we barely made a dent. There is so much to do it feels too overwhelming. So, we continue to do what we can. We give what we can. And so much more is needed. If you can’t give your time, give your money. If you can’t give your money, give your kindness. Take the time to learn about this crisis. Understand that it is every human being’s basic right to seek safety for themselves and their children.
It is time to stand up and speak out for that right to seek safety for ourselves and our children. It is well past time that our government uphold that right in decent and humane ways. June 20 is World Refugee Day. I am marking this day by honoring the moms I met in Texas who braved deserts and rivers, endured “hieleras” and prisons, and held on to some hope that there will be a better life for their kids if they persevere. I honor these women and I pledge to continue to fight for them and their families to seek the safety they deserve under law. Please join me, and support organizations like Project Corazon (https://www.lawyersforgoodgovernment.org/project-corazon), the Dilley Pro Bono Project (https://www.immigrationjustice.us/volunteeropportunities/dilley), and the Alaska Institute for Justice (http://www.akijp.org/) that are working relentlessly to ensure that justice for all is a promise we keep.
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