Further Developments on the Family Separation Crisis

This post updates two prior posts on the President’s Executive Order and on the #WalkAMile Week of Action.

A federal court in San Diego mandates that children be reunited within 30 days.

On June 27, a federal court in San Diego issued a national injunction in the ACLU’s class action lawsuit against the Trump administration’s separation of children. The injunction calls for children currently separated to be reunited with their parents within 30 days. Children under the age of five needed to be reunited with their parents within 14 days, which was July 10. Out of the 103 children under five, 57 were reunited with their parents. Other children were not reunited as their parents were deemed “unsuitable for reunification” by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for having a serious criminal history or not actually being the parent of the child, and in the case of 12 children, their parents were already deported. The deadline for children ages 5-17, which amounts to 2,551, is July 26. An official from the Department of Health and Human Services filed a statement saying that the deadline was causing increased risk to the child’s welfare because standard screening procedures were rushed. However, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw who presides over the case the ACLU brought to end family separation asserted that the process could be accelerated without putting children’s safety in danger.

A Federal District Court in San Diego issued a stay on deportations. What does that mean?

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw issued a stay on deportations until July 23, after ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt accused the Trump administration of fast-tracking deportations once families were reunited. Parents are given the option of being deported with their children or be deported while leaving their children in the U.S. to fight their asylum case. In response, DOJ attorney Sarah Fabian said stopping deportations could slow the pace of family reunification because of limited space in family detention centers, which Justice Sabraw deemed an invalid reason for reunification to slow down.

Domestic and gang violence are no longer grounds for asylum claims.

Late on July 11, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued new guidelines on asylum laws. Claims of gang and domestic violence no longer qualify for asylum and will result in immediate deportation under these new policies. As a result, an individual fleeing bodily harm and life-threatening situations at the hands of gangs or domestic partners will be deported back to that situation. Under the policy agents may also evaluate whether an illegal border crossing was warranted or is grounds for deportation, even though an individual has the right under international law to ask for asylum even if the crossing is illegal.

Testimony from parents and children in press accounts

The orders coming out the federal district court in San Diego and Justice Sabraw are based on the ACLU’s class action lawsuit Ms. L v. ICE, which was based on the forced separation of “Ms. L” and her seven-year-old daughter fleeing religious persecution in the Democratic Republic of Congo and presenting themselves at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. These cases arose from events that took place prior to the current zero tolerance policy.

Immigration officials questioned whether Ms. L was actually the mother of her daughter, and despite her protest, her child was taken to a facility in Chicago as an unaccompanied minor while her mom went through immigration proceedings. Ms. L and her daughter are now reunited, but the case continues and has expanded to include Ms. C of Brazil and her fourteen-year-old son. Ms. C did not enter a port of entry and presented herself and her son for asylum after Border Patrol apprehended her. Ms. C and her son were separated for eight months even though she was released after five months and presented no danger to her son. Ms. C was only able to talk to her son a few times and was “desperate” to see him as he was having trouble emotionally with the separation.

In the state of Washington, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Washington on behalf of Ibis Guzman, Yolany Padilla, and Blanca Orantes but seeks to represent all parents detained in Washington State who have been separated from their children. All three women were separated from their young sons in Texas with little to no contact with their sons during their separation. Yolany Padilla was released on bond from the Northwest Detention Center on July 6 but was not reunited with her six-year-old son until July 14th, prolonging their two-month long separation. When she was finally able to reunite with her son at SeaTac airport, she said when she first saw him “I felt like my heart was going to come out of my body.”

The same was not true for Blanca Orantes who was denied bond and remains in detention despite having a founded credible fear of persecution. Orantes fled El Salvador with her eight-year-old son when a gang demanded $5000 for her son’s life. As new restrictive asylum laws no longer qualify gang violence as grounds for an asylum claim, Orantes remains detained. NWIRP plans to appeal the bond, which could take months and lengthens the time in which Orantes is separated from her son.

Congress shifts attention to the 2019 Homeland Security Appropriations bill

The 2019 Homeland Security Bill increases funding for the Department of Homeland Security to $51.4 billion, which is a $3.7 billion increase from 2018. The bill provides more funding for detention centers and militarization at the border.  The bill gives ICE $70 million for procurement, construction, and improvements, in addition to the billions for detention and removal programs.  The Trump administration has made clear their intent to implement a program of indefinite family detention to replace their practice of family separation, and this bill would provide the funding to do so.

The bill specifically:

  • Allots $17.8 billion discretionary appropriations for Customs and Border Protection which is an increase of $3.8 billion from the 2018 fiscal year.
  • Within that $17.8 billion, $5 billion is designated for “border security assets and infrastructure” including the President’s promised border wall.
  • Designates $7.4 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is a $328 million increase from the 2018 fiscal year.
  • Within that $7.4 billion, $4.1 billion is for “detention and removal programs” which includes 44,000 detention beds and $78 million for 400 new ICE agents.





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