In the age of family separation, Georgia's immigrants face new barriers

July 06, 2018
| by Guest Contributor |

Monica Modi Khant is the executive director of Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN), which provides free immigration legal services to victims of crime and persecution.

This June, thousands of people marched in support of immigrant families in Atlanta, while advocates gathered for simultaneous rallies across the state in Athens, Augusta, Brunswick, Dalton, Lawrenceville, Lumpkin, Savannah, and Valdosta. Family separation at the U.S. southern border is only one part of a host of recent changes to immigration policy. As the national spotlight turns to immigration, Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN) wants you to understand the impact here in Georgia and what you can do to help. 

In May, the Trump administration announced a “zero tolerance” policy, under which they are criminally prosecuting people who crossed the U.S. southern border without authorization. Soon, the news flooded in that thousands – thousands – of children had been separated from their parents and detained. Immigration law is traditionally a civil matter, and singling out immigrants for criminal prosecution has had a devastating effect on families and individuals seeking refuge in the U.S. What’s more, some of the detainees at the border are asylum-seekers who cannot return to their home country because of a credible fear of persecution.

At GAIN, we began representing asylum-seekers in 2005, and in 2009, we added our second program, which helps immigrant victims of human trafficking, sexual assault, domestic abuse, and other crimes. Through direct representation and pro bono partnerships, we have provided $8.1 million in pro bono services to Georgia clients in need. We see first-hand the impact that immigration policy can have on the safety and security of immigrants in Georgia.

Family separation is an inhumane practice, and unfortunately it isn’t the first blow to asylum and immigration law we’ve experienced in the past few months. In June, for instance, Attorney General Sessions issued an opinion overturning established case law that allows victims of domestic violence to seek asylum protection in the United States. Its current replacement, indefinite family detention, is also traumatic and harmful to vulnerable immigrants.

At GAIN, many of our clients have been detained, separated from their families, or threatened with separation by abusers who would keep them from speaking out. One horrifying repercussion of these shifts in policy is that victims of crime may already be retreating further into dangerous situations due to fear of the U.S. government and immigration courts. As the public outcry against the policy rages on, immigrants face new barriers to expressing their need for protection or assistance to law enforcement agencies, and that makes it harder for all of us to protect the people who need us most.

Georgia’s immigration courts, where asylum cases are heard, are the toughest in the nation. And while Georgia does not have a child detention center, we do have four detention centers which house the adult parents, siblings, children, and people who are most affected by each and every change in immigration policy.

GAIN serves clients from more than 111 countries. We see people every day who are fleeing domestic and international dangers, including threats that many of us can only imagine. We need the action and support of all Georgians to impact change. Below are five things you can do today to make a difference for immigrant victims of crime and persecution in Georgia:

  • Be kind to immigrants. Many immigrants are living in a state of fear right now, and your outstretched hand may mean more than you know.

  • Be a voice. Educate others, write your Senators, and demand better protections for immigrants. Always check your sources and beware of misinformation.

  • Support immigrant-owned businesses.

  • If you are an attorney, consider partnering with GAIN to take on a pro bono immigration case. We will be hosting a volunteer attorney training on July 23, 2018. Email [email protected] for more information.

  • Donate to GAIN or another nonprofit working to help immigrants in your community.

We need your support now: Each new change in immigration policy has the potential to create traumatic and harmful experiences for vulnerable immigrants.

Monica Modi Khant is the executive director of Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN), which provides free immigration legal services to victims of crime and persecution.



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