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Immigration Brief # 112

Trump Administration Impedes Search for Migrant Children’s Parents ACLU Tells USRESIST NEWS

By Linda F. Hersey

December 18, 2020

The Trump administration withheld key contact information for locating the deported parents of 666 immigrant children detained in the U.S., according to an attorney with the ACLU, which is representing the separated families in a class action lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Daniel Galindo, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, accuses the Trump administration of “obstructive” activities that impede searches and hinder efforts to reunite families and put them on a path to citizenship.

“What people are rightly asking and wondering is, how were these circumstances inflicted on these families, and why isn’t the federal government doing right by them?” said Galindo, in an interview with U.S. Resist News.

Advocates with the ACLU have located relatives for 168 of the 666 children, though the family member often is not the parent. Galindo said the outreach involves trust-building with the children’s relatives.

“We have the beginning of an answer in many of the cases,” Galindo said. Parents, fearful of arrest by the U.S. or violence in their home country, often are difficult to locate. “We may be able to reach a parent’s brother who explains the family situation and that the parent is in hiding,” he said, which complicates the situation and delays court efforts to reunite the families.

The ACLU and other civil rights groups argue that the Trump administration has engaged in misinformation to justify anti-immigration policies that violate due process and federal law protecting asylum seekers.

The ACLU lawsuit focuses on the experience of a parent fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was forcibly separated from her 7-year-old daughter in the U.S. They were detained 2,000 miles apart.

While the mother and child were reunited, the ACLU case, filed in 2018, has advanced as a class action lawsuit for 666 children that U.S. border agents separated from their parents.

Misinformation Campaign Waged to ‘Criminalize Immigrants’

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), which provides legal help to immigrants, argues that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under Trump has waged an “image campaign to criminalize immigrants” that the administration “made the centerpiece of its narrative.”

“We must rethink immigration enforcement,” the California-based coalition urges on its website. “The point should not be maximizing suffering and tearing apart immigrant families.”

The coalition also criticized the level of funding increases that Homeland Security received under Trump for tracking, arresting and detaining undocumented individuals. The DHS budget for immigration enforcement has nearly doubled to $30 billion in five years, the coalition reported.

Damages Sought for Forced Separations

The ACLU is seeking damages for the anguish that 666 children identified as plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit suffered by the forced separations. The ACLU also is seeking a legal path to citizenship for the children and their parents.

Most of the families are from South and Central America and were detained as they entered the U.S. from Mexico. The task now, according to the ACLU, is to find the parents separated from their children and deported by U.S. border agents.

Under Trump’s zero tolerance policy, hundreds of children – including some as young as infants and toddlers — were taken from undocumented parents, in 2017 and 2018, and held in detention centers, sometimes for months and often under harsh conditions. Many of those children were not reunited with their parents. They were placed with court-approved sponsors, in cities across the U.S., who were not always a relative or parent.

Galindo said that the Trump administration deliberately withheld information that ICE collected on the parents’ whereabouts, which only now is being discovered during court arguments in the class action lawsuit.

Biden Expected to Provide Path to Legal Status

He described the federal government’s data on the deported adults and their children as “haphazardly collected.”

The government, for example, may have originally provided searchers with the address of a U.S. detention facility where an undocumented parent was held, when it had more up-to-date information on the parent post-release but withheld it.

“The Trump Administration has persistently not provided information that would be useful,” Galindo noted. “The latest example is of the government now coming forward with data from court proceedings that will prove useful but should have been turned over quite some time ago.”

Delays and incomplete information have an impact, making it harder for advocates to connect children with families and slow down asylum proceedings in the U.S.

Galindo said the incoming Biden administration has said publicly it will take a different approach toward immigration but has yet to define it.

“We are advocating that they pursue enduring ways to do right by these families,” Galindo said, “including a pathway to legal status and returning families that want to return.”

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