ACLU Says Feds Still Separating Families at US-Mexico Border

Maria holds her 4-year-old son Franco after he arrived at the El Paso International Airport on July 26, 2018 in Texas. The two had been separated for over six weeks after being entering the country. (Ruben R. Ramirez/The El Paso Times via AP)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – The federal government continues to separate families at the U.S.-Mexico border despite a court order barring the policy – over 900 children in the last year, the ACLU said Tuesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the 911 children have been separated from their parents despite a nationwide injunction by a California federal judge. The group asks the court to block the Trump administration from continuing the policy.

Babies and toddlers are being separated from their parents based on criminal history by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to the memorandum filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Of the 911 most recently reported by the federal government, 185 are under the age of five according to the ACLU’s lead attorney Lee Gelernt.

In a statement Gelernt said, “It is shocking that the Trump administration continues to take babies from their parents. Over 900 more families join the thousands of others previously torn apart by this cruel and illegal policy. The administration must not be allowed to circumvent the court order over infractions like minor traffic violations.”

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw of the Southern District of California ordered federal immigration officials to reunite all families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border by July 2018, a deadline that was missed. Initially, Sabraw oversaw a class action brought by the ACLU in San Diego’s federal court over the separation of over 2,000 minors from their parents.

According to the 200-plus-page memorandum which includes declarations from immigration advocacy groups who have been tasked with locating and reuniting separated families, some children have been separated from their parents due to minor criminal records, like a father who was separated from his 2-year-old due to “public intoxication arrests and DUI.” Another child, just 8 months old, was separated from his father for “fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation arrest.”

Of the 678 separations where the general reason includes an alleged criminal history, only half indicate a conviction occurred. The rest of the immigrants said their charges were dismissed or they simply did not provide any information about the results from the allegations. Still, those parents were separated from their children.

“From June 28, 2018, through June 29, 2019, defendants have now separated more than 900 children – including numerous babies and toddlers – based on criminal history, defendants’ unilateral, unsupported determination that the parent is unfit or a danger, or mistakes about the identity of the adult as the child’s parent,” writes Gelernt.

“And defendants have clarified that their position is that the injunction did not just allow them to separate members of the original class based on any criminal history, but that it also allows them to continue to separate families on an ongoing basis, no matter how insignificant the crime (save certain immigration offenses).”

Attorney Anthony Enriquez, director of the unaccompanied minors program of the Catholic Charities Community Services of the Archdiocese of New York, said in a declaration the separations continued after Sabraw issued his injunction. His organization has seen 308 children separated from their parents and placed in New York shelters or foster homes.

“This amounts to more than a third of the total number of separated children – 911 – identified by the government during this period,” writes Enriquez. “Of these 308 children, 65 (21%) were five years old or younger.”

Spokespeople from the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection declined to comment.

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