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Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

BC Professors Lead Webinar on Migrant Motherhood

Dr. María Emilia Bianco and Professor Daniel Kanstroom presented on Motherhood at the US-Mexico Border and the recent Supreme Court Case DHS v. Thuraissigiam in a webinar presented by the Center for Human Rights and International Justice (CHRIJ) on Friday at Boston College. Professor Brinton Lykes, co-director of the CHRIJ, moderated the webinar.

Bianco has researched the effects of migrating on mothers, examining the difficult choices migrant mothers faced before, during, and after journeying to the United States. She has worked with immigrant communities in Boston and is currently a part-time professor at Boston College and Loyola University.

Bianco's presentation focused on 17 immigrant mothers who settled in Boston. She outlined the neglect and human rights abuses faced by these mothers as they attempted to resettle their lives. Her research started in 2014 and has continued through the present day. 

Kanstroom is a Carney Distinguished Scholar and a Professor of Law at Boston College. His research focuses on deportation law in the United States. His section of the presentation focuses on the recent 7-2 Supreme Court decision in DHS v. Thuraissigiam. The case ruled that an asylum seeker who is arrested and placed in fast-track deportation proceedings has no right to petition under a rite of Habeas Corpus.  

“Since 2015 there has been a rising number of women and children crossing the border worldwide,” Bianco began. “We know that migrants from Central America, including women and children, can experience multiple human rights abuses before, during, and even after migration, producing in some cases experiences of unending suffering,” she continued.

The United States is scaling back on protections for asylum seekers, despite its reputation as the global leader for resettling asylum seekers and refugees. The Trump administration has made it more difficult for asylum seekers to work in the United States and to achieve refugee status.

Bianco’s research focuses particularly on mothers from South America who migrated North with their children from 2014 to 2018, where they resettled in Boston. She explored the contexts of women living and mothering, the context of their decisions involving children, and how mothering affects them. The study is grounded in a human rights and feminist framework. The primary source of data for Bianco’s dissertation focused on the narrative of women who were mothers and had crossed the border with at least one of their children. To demonstrate her research, Bianco told the story of Elena.

“‘What led me to the decision to cross the border was that I started a business and they started extorting me. They said they knew where my daughters were, where they were studying, and they sent me pictures of each of them. They described how they would kill each of them,’” Bianco retold.

Elena made the decision to cross the border with only one of her daughters. Her older daughter and her mother stayed behind at a safer place. The younger daughter crossed the border with Elena because she was receiving more threats than the older daughter. “‘I brought her with lies because I couldn’t find a way to tell her to leave the comfort of our house to come here. And now I see her and I tell to myself, ‘Did I do right?’’ Elena asked.

Both Elena and her daughter were detained at the border and placed in a detention center. She was separated from her daughter and was mistreated. The children were given clean clothes but the mothers were left in wet clothes from crossing the river. The guards verbally abused the mothers and treated them with no respect.

Bianco stressed that in every aspect of migration there is violence against women. At home, extortion, poverty, and the threat of losing their children contribute to the decision to leave their country of origin. On the road, high priced guides, violence, and the dangers of travel inflict horrors on the mothers. Finally, once in the United States mothers may be detained and separated from their children.

“As a consequence of a lack of institutional protections, mothers were the only ones responsible for guaranteeing the right to life of their children by relying on extreme sacrifices and resisting extremely difficult circumstances,” Bianco argued. “80% of the mothers in the study said that they migrated to protect their children from some sort of violence,” she stated.

“Include asylum-seeking mothers as protagonists in this process,” Bianco said as she emphasized the need to recognize that these “asylum-seeking mothers have voice, have agency, have strength, and particular perspectives.”

Kanstroom then took over to add context to the Supreme Court cases and the reframing of the asylum-seeking process. “We may be entering a historical period that is unlike anything that we have experienced for more than a hundred years in which judges and constitutional protections may become unavailable to people, even people who are seeking asylum and certainly to non-citizens more generally,” he began.

“Who guards the guardians?” Kanstroom rhetorically asked.

The Trump Administration has significantly increased the powers of ICE enforcement and Customs and Border Control. Given that immigrants crossing the border and placed in deportation proceedings do not always have to appear before a judge to be deported, there is a critical lack of oversight.

“What’s the remedy for this? There has to be some process. There has to be someone looking over the shoulders of the guardians,” Kanstroom emphasized.

“Justice Alito, writing for a five-judge majority, said that his habeas corpus [Thuraissigiam], his attempt to get a judge to take a look at what had happened in this summary government proceeding, could not be brought. Because he was a non-citizen seeking initial admission, he has no Habeas rights or Constitutional due process rights,” the Supreme Court found.  

Kanstroom concluded by quoting the dissent of Justice Sotomayor, declaring the ruling an invitation to lawlessness. With that, the panel opened for questions.

“What do we do in this context? How do we convince even the Democrats, if we can get them elected, to be courageous enough to address human rights violations like this, especially when the federal judgeships are increasingly conservative?”  asked an audience member.

“What is happening now is a completely different characteristic of enforcement, it is just brutal beyond any historical precedent. This is one of those elections that really really did have consequences in the enforcement system and will have consequences,” Kanstroom insisted.

“This election is life or death for many, many people,” he finished.