The Trump administration is detaining immigrant children as young as 19 months separate from their parents, based on allegations of crimes and minor convictions in the parents’ pasts.
The tactic suggests Trump officials are applying a different standard to immigrant parents, who the government separated from their kids during the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, than the one they use for U.S. parents accused or convicted of crimes.
Seven children under the age of 5 are still separated from their parents, nearly three months after a federal court ordered the Trump administration to reunify families because of past “criminal histories," according to a filing Thursday from the ACLU.
“The government is unilaterally claiming that parents have criminal histories,” said Lee Gelernt, lead attorney on the reunification case with the ACLU, which is challenging those determinations. “There’s still a few dozen parents who they’re not going to reunite.”
For example, the ACLU is challenging the case of a Honduran father who has not seen his 19-month-old son since April (he’s now 2) because the Department of Homeland Security deemed him an unfit parent.
The man, known in court documents as Mr. C, fled to the U.S. because gangs had murdered his family members. Because of a 2010 misdemeanor conviction for aggravated assault, the government determined Mr. C unfit to be a parent. The conviction is for swinging a machete at his wife in front of her friends, the government said, and it is Mr. C’s only conviction. Officials have not found any evidence of child abuse or neglect.
A woman from El Salvador known as Ms. Q has been separated from her 3-year-old son for more than six months (he’s now 4). A February 2017 warrant from El Salvador alleges that Ms. Q is an MS-13 gang member, but she's never been convicted of a crime.
She passed her credible fear interview — the first hurdle in the asylum process, in which an immigration officer determines whether an immigrant’s fear of returning to his or her home country is genuine — citing evidence that she fears persecution from gang members.
DHS argues in its brief that the warrant was enough to originally separate Ms. Q from her son, and DHS officials are using their discretion to keep the family separated.
“An arrest warrant without any evidence of abuse, abandonment, or neglect would not lead to the temporary removal of a child or the permanent termination of parental rights,” the ACLU brief notes.
Both parents are still behind bars in immigration detention centers while their kids are in the Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter system.
Earlier this year the Department of Homeland Security separated nearly 2,600 kids — 103 of them under the age of 5 — from their parents at the border and detained them separately for months until a federal judge intervened and ordered the government to reunite the families on June 26.
Today, 390 kids remain separated from their parents. Twenty-nine parents, including 7 whose children are under the age of 5, are still separated because the government determined they are unfit to be a parent based on prior criminal history.
Independent advocates for both children say it is critical that they be reunited with their detained parents immediately, according to the ACLU.
Other kids are now separated from their parents by borders. Five parents of kids under five were deported without their kids and are now outside of the U.S. without them. The ACLU and other advocacy groups are working along with the government to track down these parents — including 160 of kids five and older who were also deported alone — and determine how they want to move forward.
The federal judge overseeing the reunification case, Dana Sabraw with the U.S. District Court for the District of Southern California, will likely address these cases at a hearing Friday and determine whether Ms. Q and Mr. C. can reunite with their kids shortly. The ACLU will be challenging other individual cases in the coming days.
Cover: In this Aug. 9, 2018, file photo, provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, immigrants walk into a building at South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. (Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP, File)