The American Immigration Lawyers Association‘s (AILA) Annual Conference is in full swing and this year does not lack controversy. Many immigration lawyers were adamantly against AILA’s choice for its keynote speaker, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz, and even had set out a petition in advance of her speech asking AILA to withdraw the invite. In a letter addressed to AILA Executive Director Crystal Williams, Muñoz’s decisions have “intentionally harmed” hundreds of immigrant children. The immigration lawyers said Muñoz “is directly responsible for causing children to suffer severe and prolonged physical and mental harm in detention centers in Artesia, New Mexico; Leesport, Pennsylvania; Karnes City, Texas; and Dilley, Texas.” In the letter, lawyers asserted Muñoz supported Obama’s policy preventing Central American children from escaping violence in their native countries and referred to her as “one of the principal architects of shocking, widespread, and ongoing human rights violations against vulnerable children” fleeing the region. Due to the maltreatment of the immigrant children, the petition demanded Muñoz not be recognized as AILA’s keynote speaker. Yet Cecilia Muñoz stayed on and delivered her keynote speech, with many on hand protesting.
Among the other criticism of Ms Munoz was starting last summer, she and the White House were desperate to do anything to stop Central American children from escaping into the U.S. in such high numbers. President Obama went so far as to request Congress to gut the 2008 Trafficking and Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) so that unaccompanied children from Central America could be detained pending deportation without even seeing an immigration judge.
According to AILA Director Williams’ response, what matters are not Muñoz’s private or public actions, but her senior office role in the White House. Recognizing that the White House must be held accountable for its immigration-related decisions, Williams said the method for accountability is have a White House official in front of “a couple thousand immigration lawyers,” who she noted “can’t be fooled by pretty words or general sound bits and slogans.”
We and many other Immigration Advocates and Private Bar members thought it was deeply problematic that Ms. Muñoz repeat the false argument that the Administration asks for less money for detention and then Congress gives them more so they are left with no choice but to detain people. For Fiscal Year 2016, this is certainly not the case. More than 34,000 detention beds and $345 million were requested for family detention. We feel strongly that these are not only bad policies, but that its also very weak to try to shuffle the blame onto Congress as the party responsible for forcing their hand.
Moreover, we are insulted that Muñoz had the gall to state today that the private bar has not contributed to a helpful discussion on a humane and effective enforcement policy. We have spent countless hours advocating around the country and in Washington for new legislation and executive policies that would restructure the broken system to deflect the desire for people to “jump the fence” and pursue illegal immigration. If you don’t fix a broken system Ms. Muñoz, how can you fix the enforcement issues? The enforcement problem will just continue to grow.