Condemn the crisis manufactured by Trump administration “Zero Tolerance” policy; Call on local, state and federal officials to block abusive conditions and family separation

Houston, TXToday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner publicly opposed a new Houston immigrant children’s facility. The mayor joins calls by Houston immigrants, legal advocates and service providers to local officials, state representatives, and members of Congress to take explicit action to block considerations for any new immigrant child facilities. The proposed facility is the result of the new federal practice of tearing apart and imprisoning asylum-seeking families, a practice condemned by the immigrant community, advocates and people of conscience.

Kate Vickery, Executive Director, HILSC, said:

“We are in the midst of a manufactured crisis that is creating a false need for a new Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelter in Houston. While the service providers stand ready to help families impacted by family separation and we welcome these families in Houston, we reject the notion that we should enable the build-out of the detention system. The Mayor seemed to suggest he would be okay with parents and children being detained together, but we strongly believe that asylum seekers should never be imprisoned while seeking refuge in the United States, and separating children from their parents is a cruel tactic to deter immigrants from exercising their rights to seek asylum.”

Damaris Gonzalez, Lead organizer, United We Dream Houston, said:

“There are children in detention facilities left to fend for themselves, trembling and traumatized, because of an administration that has chosen to pull them from the arms of their parents to make a political statement. Children will not be used as pawns, and Houston will not allow kidnappers to set up in our city and continue destroying families. We call on Harris County and Texas leadership to take any and all action against facilities like this that exist solely because the Trump administration has made the callous and unthinkable decision to separate and imprison families seeking refuge from terror. Families deserve to be reunited immediately and granted the asylum they seek. Family destruction is what happens when ICE and CBP continue to go unchecked and they must be abolished now.”

Claudia Aguirre, President and CEO, BakerRipley (formerly Neighborhood Centers, Inc.), said:

“BakerRipley does not support families being torn apart who are fleeing to our southern border for safety. Our organization is committed to providing direct legal representation to separated families housed in Houston area detention centers. And we are working with state-wide and national coalitions to educate the community about the impacts of this policy.  BakerRipley will continue to advocate for the families who come to this region – taking action to keep welcome alive. As a nation, we desperately need sensible and comprehensive immigration reform. We need pragmatic solutions to address this issue- end the immediate cruelty to children and deal fairly and justly with people seeking asylum.”

Astrid Dominguez, Director, ACLU Border Rights Center, said:

“We stand firm with Mayor Turner in his opposition to President Trump’s monstrous and morally irredeemable family separation policy, and we will continue to work until that policy is consigned to the scrap heap of history where it belongs.”

Mary Moreno, communications director of the Texas Organizing Project, said:

“On a day when we’re celebrating the delayed ending of slavery in Texas, Juneteenth, it’s heartbreaking that we’re still fighting for liberation, and even sadder that it’s the liberation of children. This is America’s eternal struggle, living up to its values. Although we have never achieved that aspiration of equality and fairness for all, we’ve never stopped fighting, hoping. Today, we stand with Mayor Turner in rejecting Trump’s manufactured crisis, and stand with the immigrants who are running from danger and despair.”

Daniel J. Cohen, President, Indivisible Houston, said:

Accepting the overflow from Trump’s concentration camps and housing them on Emancipation Avenue, down the street from Minute Maid Park, home of the world champion Houston Astros, is the most unwelcoming, anti-family statement Houston could possibly make. The People are rightfully enraged by the murder, mass trials, and terrorizing of communities and anti-Constitutional commoditization of children for political gain. We are organized to fight the deportation machine.”

Mario Salinas, Civic Engagement Coordinator, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, said:

“This is a manufactured crisis resulting from the administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy, which has seen a record number of children stripped from their loved ones and put into rushed facilities, that may not be equipped to deal with their needs. The trauma these children are experiencing could be lessened by the administration today. Yet they choose to play political games with young people who are seeking refuge in a nation that was once known for compassionate values. We, as the most diverse city in the nation, must fight back.”

Natalia Cornelio, Criminal Justice Reform Director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said:

“Every day, since May 2018, the federal government has been arresting migrating families and taking children away from their parents along the U.S.-Mexico border.  Thousands of children have been taken from their parents under this policy.   This is unprecedented, unnecessary, and cruel. We oppose this unconscionable policy, and we must oppose the building of additional facilities that enable it to continue. Thank you, Mayor Turner, for taking a step in the right direction on this national, humanitarian crisis.  We hope that our other local, state, and national leaders join you, that this policy stops immediately, and that the separated families be reunited at once.”

The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC) is a consortium of immigration legal services providers and immigrant rights advocates and stakeholders. More information  is available at

Additional information about United We Dream is available at  

Texas Organizing Project organizes Black and Latino communities in Dallas, Harris and Bexar counties with the goal of transforming Texas into a state where working people of color have the power and representation they deserve. For more information, visit


Family separation support services


In May, the Trump Administration announced a new “zero tolerance” policy, which has resulted in the criminal prosecution of thousands of individuals seeking asylum. While the adults are jailed and prosecuted, their children are ripped away and put into Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters, which are now overrun with very young children who have become “unaccompanied,” despite the fact that they came seeking asylum with a parent. More than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents, including infants. This is cruel, inhumane, and exceptionally harmful for already traumatized families. As a result of this policy, new shelters for children have opened near El Paso and one is proposed for downtown Houston* for “tender age” children under 12. On June 20th, Mayor Sylvester Turner came out strongly opposed to the family separation policy and indicated that the city would do everything it could to stop any new shelters for separated children in Houston.

On June 20, President Trump signed an executive order that orders the detention of families who enter the United States seeking asylum to be detained in family detention centers while they fight their asylum cases. HILSC and partners decry the use of family detention, which further traumatizes children and asylum seekers. While the active policy of separating families has stopped, there is no plan or system to reunite the thousands already separated. Most recently, a federal judge in California ordered the government to reunite parents with their children aged under five within 14 days, all others within 30 days, and prohibits parents from being deported without their children. Here are a few ways you can work to fight these policies and their impact locally.

Read our statement condemning family separation and family detention, signed by many members of our community and its allies here

*We will keep this page updated with information as it becomes available. 


Support the organizations that provide direct legal services to unaccompanied and separated children and their parents, helping them reunite. In Houston those organizations are:

Around the state, these organizations are providing direct services to separated children:

Support leaders of local advocacy through litigation




Under public and congressional pressure, Attorney General Jeff Sessions will “un-pause” funding for the Legal Orientation Program

April 25, 2018 – During testimony to the Senate Appropriation’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he would allow funding for the Legal Orientation Program to continue while the “efficiency audit” is ongoing. This is a relief to the agencies providing critical “know your rights” information to the more than 30,000 immigrants in 12 of Texas’ immigration detention centers. Sessions had previously announced that the program would end on May 1 while the audit took place.

The announcement means that the YMCA International Services will be allowed to continue its legal information program in the Houston area’s three detention centers, reaching more than 6,000 individuals per year. This program guarantees access to accurate and essential legal education for immigrants facing deportation in immigration detention centers, more than 80% of whom are without legal representation. Moreover, these programs improve the efficiency of the immigration court system and ultimately produce a net savings for taxpayers.

Nevertheless, the temporary cessation of LOP funding underscores the vulnerability of low-income immigrants, particularly those in detention and facing deportation.

Kate Vickery, Executive Director of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative said,
While this is wonderful news today, we worry that we will be facing the same situation in the future if the DOJ’s audit does not support the continuation of the program. As a community, we need to recognize the importance of supporting programs that provide due process and information for immigrants facing deportation. The basic information provided by the LOP program should not hinge on a single funding stream, and the fact that this program could end anytime should motivate us to create additional programs and systems, such as our new Deportation Defense Houston project.

The Collaborative’s Deportation Defense Houston program will provide full representation to immigrants currently detained in the Houston region.

Members of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative call on Congress to take action to restore funding for the efficient and effective LOP program

On Tuesday, April 10, 2018, news broke that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is pausing the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) “legal orientation program” (LOP)  while it conducts an “efficiency audit.” Contracts with the 20 immigration legal services provider nonprofits around the country will end on April 30. This means that, starting May 1, 53,000 immigrants will no longer be provided with information regarding their due process rights, leading to increased deportations and family separations. The nonprofits who provide these services, have a mere 20 days to determine alternative methods to getting vital legal information to detained immigrants as there is little to suggest that this “pause” will be anything but permanent.

Across Texas, five nonprofits provide legal orientations to more than 30,000 immigrants in 11 facilities in the border region, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston. Through the Legal Orientation Program, unrepresented detained immigrants learn about the removal process, find out about potential immigration relief, discuss their situation with an attorney and, in some cases, obtain referral to pro bono attorneys and other nonprofits in Houston. The Program is administered nationally by the Vera Institute of Justice.

In the Greater Houston Region, the YMCA International Services has been the only provider of legal orientations to detained immigrants since 2007. Through the LOP, they provide legal orientations to more than 6,000 individuals annually in three detention facilities: Houston Contract Detention Facility (Houston); Joe Corley Detention Facility (Conroe); and Polk County Adult Detention Center (Livingston). A new facility will open later this year, also in Conroe. These detention centers have some of the lowest legal representation rates of any in the country: only 27% of the approximately 3,000 detained immigrants have legal representation at any point during their case.

Elizabeth Sanchez-Kennedy, Immigration Legal Services Director, YMCA International Services said,
“Ending the Legal Orientation Program will dramatically decrease immigrants’ access to the information they need to be able to make informed decisions about the deportation process and further reduce the number of immigrants represented in immigration court. Our staff at the YMCA have passionately participated in legal orientation programs for many years and have developed an expertise in navigating the murky system for which there is no guide.”  

The Legal Orientation Program was created during the George W. Bush administration as a mechanism to improve immigration court efficiency. The program does not provide direct representation for individuals, but is the primary pathway for detained immigrants to get referrals to attorneys and organizations who can represent them.

Kate Vickery, Executive Director, HILSC, said,
“We believe that it is fundamentally unjust for anyone living in the United States to face a judge without an attorney to help them navigate a complex legal system or to face deportation without ever being informed of their rights and options. It is our assumption that without advocacy, this temporary pause of the program will be permanent, as the current administration has shown little regard for due process and access to legal counsel for immigrants in removal proceedings. The end of LOP will certainly result in a decrease of representation and an increase in unjust deportations. This is another tactic – along with immigration judge case quotas, increased court hearing speeds, and family separation at the border – to deny immigrants access to counsel.”

The LOP program allows providers such as YMCA International Services to have a regular presence in immigration detention facilities, where they can reach out to detainees who have limited English proficiency, financial resources or cognitive capacity who will otherwise be unable to access any legal assistance. Without the EOIR’s LOP, each Houston detention facility will be left to decide whether or not, or to what extent it will allow legal orientations to detainees, diminishing detained immigrants’ only access to legal assistance.

A 2012 EOIR report to the Senate Appropriations Committee showed unequivocally that facilities run more smoothly when people are informed and court dockets move more quickly when people understand their rights and eligibility for relief. Overall, the savings to the government due to LOP was more than $17.8 million, and the system improves efficiencies for immigration judges, ICE, and facility staff while simultaneously increasing chances of detainees winning their case and making dignified decisions.

Members of the Collaborative stand opposed to this latest attack on immigrants and are calling on our community to call members of congress to state their support for the Legal Orientation Program. 

To learn more about the Collaborative’s efforts to provide justice to immigrants facing deportation, visit Deportation Defense Houston


YMCA of Greater Houston
United We Dream
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
Tahirih Justice Center – Houston
Justice For Our Neighbors – Houston
The Alliance
OCA-Greater Houston
Mi Familia Vota
Chinese Community Center
Human Rights First
Access Justice Houston
Terri Burke, Executive Director, ACLU of Texas
Law Office of Teresa Messer.
Powers Law Group, P.C.
Justine K. Fanarof, JD, MPH
Brandon Roché, JD
Rosemary Vega,  Attorney at Law