Mr. Mohammad Syed participated in a panel discussion on the Trump administration’s immigration policy and practice of family separations hosted as part of the American Bar Association Section of International Law’s 2019 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C on April 12, 2019.

Mr. Syed spoke alongside Panel Chair and Moderator Maritza Rodriguez of Rodriguez Law Firm LLC.; Conchita Cruz of the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP); Mari Dorn-Lopez of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights; Susan Roy of Susan G. Roy LLC.; and Cory Shindel of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).

Panel participants gave illuminating presentations regarding the origins and conduct of the Trump administration’s so-called “zero tolerance” policy, which mandates the criminal prosecution of all migrants apprehended while illegally crossing the border. This approach has resulted in the separation of migrant children from their parents in unprecedented numbers, often with vague, if any, assurance of reunification.

Speakers discussed the ethical, legal, and policy-relevant issues surrounding the “zero tolerance” approach, chief of which are profound concerns regarding due process (including for juveniles/minors), lack of “best-interest-of-child” norms, international obligations for protection of asylum seekers, and potential human rights violations (including preservation of family integrity). Participants also highlighted key past and ongoing legal challenges to this policy, outlined ongoing efforts to provide affected parents and children pro bono legal representation and advocacy services, and offered reflections on the current status and trajectory of the administration’s practice of family separations.

Ms. Conchita Cruz, Ms. Mari Dorn-Lopez, and Ms. Cory Shindel discussed their invaluable frontline work with parents and children who have been affected firsthand by the administration’s use of family separations. Ms. Cruz highlighted ASAP’s mission of providing emergency, short-term legal services to parents who often lack an understanding of the criminal charges and/or immigration processes facing them and who may otherwise struggle to find legal counsel. Ms. Shindel described KIND’s work alongside a nationwide network of cooperating firms and legal services providers to provide pro bono legal support for unaccompanied minors ­­– particularly in cases where they are separated from and unable to communicate with their parents, leaving them helpless to articulate their own legal defense. Ms. Dorn-Lopez discussed the Young Center’s mission to support the rights of immigrant children, such as through the provision of Child Advocates to advocate for children’s best interests in immigration proceedings.

Ms. Susan Roy, as a former federal immigration attorney with experience in the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, provided her perspective on the Trump administration’s immigration practices, their intended (yet ineffective) deterrent effect towards future migrants, and the various legal issues therein with an emphasis on the erosion of due process protections. Ms. Roy’s presentation helped elucidate the practice of “zero tolerance” not only “on the ground”, but within the inner workings of the U.S. government.

Mr. Mohammad Syed, as an active family and business immigration attorney in Washington D.C, described his impressions of the impacts of the Trump administration’s policies on the field of immigration law writ large. He also provided a number of invaluable sources and avenues for attorneys and non-attorneys seeking to get involved in the ongoing fight against family separation policies.

To conclude, panel speakers emphasized the need for legal professionals to keep up the advocacy drumbeat – including by educating and maintaining pressure on Congress and providing pro bono legal advice and services to those in need when possible – regarding the discontinuation of family separations and other cruel immigration policies carried out by the Trump administration. They also highlighted the need for continued work towards ensuring sound due process of law, protection of children’s best interests, and the assurance of various rights afforded to asylum seekers under international laws and norms.

The program outline for the ABA Section of International Law 2019 Annual Conference, including the above panel discussion, can be found here [1]; more information regarding the panel speakers can be found through the event page here [2].