Members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison community are working to ease the plight of migrants seeking refuge in the United States, with law school students headed to Texas to represent them in immigration court and professors going on record denouncing Trump administration policies.
Nine UW Law School students are scheduled to head to Dilley, Texas, next month — led by Erin Barbato, a clinical instructor at the school who will become director of its Immigrant Justice Clinic in September — to represent families being held in a residential center there in immigration court.
Meanwhile, 18 faculty members at UW-Madison’s Chican@/Latin@ Studies program, including director Benjamin Marquez, on June 23 issued a statement denouncing the policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S./Mexico border.
President Donald Trump ended that policy in response to a firestorm of protest, ordering instead that families entering the U.S. without documentation be detained together. But that change in practice has not quelled growing public outrage over the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies, which erupted in protests last Saturday in cities across the country, including Madison.
“The separation of children from their families may have stopped, but the racialized thinking behind those policies remains,” Marquez said Monday. “The anti-Latino/a and immigrant rhetoric has been relentless since 2016. We had to speak out. And we are still outraged.”
The Department of Defense is expected to begin building tent encampments on two military bases this week, in response to a Department of Homeland Security order to prepare to house up to 12,000 parents and children.
“We don’t know what that will look like by the time we get down there,” Barbato said. “We will go anywhere they need attorneys to represent families facing deportation and in residential facilities near Dilley,” she said.
Barbato, the mother of three children under age 5, remarked children that young being brought into immigration court without caretakers or legal representation. “My three-year-old may be able to say her first name, but she has no idea what city she lives in. What we are doing to those children is unconscionable.”
The detention of children was a focus of the statement by the UW-Madison professors.
“What we are witnessing is a gross violation of due process and denial of representation for the accused. Seeking refuge is not a criminal act,” they wrote. The group touched on the potential long-range impact of such forced separation from care-givers, something that remains a concern as it has not been made clear how the cases of some 2,300 children taken from parents before Trump rescinded the policy will be handled.
Barbato said that in Dane County, the Immigrant Justice Clinic and the Community Immigration Law Center plan to begin offering training on immigration law to local attorneys within the next few months to increase the number of lawyers prepared for pro bono representation of migrants that the government is trying to deport.
“We want to get to the point that no individual placed in removal proceedings in without representation in Wisconsin,” she said. Those in the state facing possible deportation include people living in Wisconsin without documentation who are taken into custody and minors detained at the border who are sent north to live with relatives.
Awareness of and public statements on current immigration policies is important, Barbato said. People may also send financial support to UW’s law clinic, the community law center, or the Dane County Immigration Coalition, she said.
Marquez said he does not believe reforming immigration enforcement policies alone will resolve the human rights issues that are embodied in the refugees arriving at the U.S. border.
“Research shows that immigration is very sensitive to economic trends in the United States and (the migrants’) home countries. The U.S. should take steps to promote democracy and improve living conditions in those countries,” he said.