CHICAGO, July 26, 2018 — With the final deadline only hours away for the Trump administration to reunite 2,500 children with the parents who were taken from them at the border, hundreds of children remain stranded alone in the United States. At least 463 parents have been deported without their children, under traumatic circumstances that are inherently coercive. More than 900 others remain locked up in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration prisons because the administration has deemed them “ineligible” to reunite with their children.
“Congress must not be fooled by the administration’s claims to have met—or come anywhere near meeting—today’s deadlines,” said National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) Director of Policy Heidi Altman. “Already, we know of hundreds of parents who have been deported or remain in DHS custody; this administration is terminating parental rights without even a nod to due process. Rather than resolving the chaos it created when it chose to prosecute asylum seekers and take their children at our border, this administration continues to ignore the federal court order and violate U.S. and human rights laws.”
As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to hear testimony on July 31 regarding the family separation crisis, NIJC calls on members of Congress to:
- Demand that DHS provide all parents included in the Ms. L v. ICE federal class action lawsuit who have been deported the opportunity to return to the United States via humanitarian parole to pursue reunification and reopen their removal proceedings.
- Require that ALL parents and children be reunified unless evidence exists that would be sufficient for a termination or disruption of parental rights in a state court proceeding, and with an accompanying and independent best-interests analysis of the child.
NIJC represents many parents and children who were torn from each other as part of the administration’s family separation policy. As of noon today, among the families represented by NIJC:
- 57 children over age five who were in Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody have been transferred or released for reunification. For children who were transferred, DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has not confirmed whether their reunifications resulted in release or ongoing family detention. NIJC represents about 12 children over age five still awaiting reunification in ORR custody.
- Two children under the age of five remain in ORR custody two weeks after the date the federal court had ordered them released, because ICE has deemed their parents “ineligible” for reunification. In both of these cases, ICE has failed to provide evidence to substantiate its refusal to reunify the families.
- Two children under the age of five remain in ORR custody after ICE deported their parents.
- Two parents are in the process of being reunified, after spending nearly two months in an ICE prison in California. A third parent who was held at the same prison was previously released on bond and has reunited with her child.
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NIJC is concerned about the chaotic nature of the reunification process these families have endured:
- In one case, a child was transferred by plane to a facility to be reunified with a parent who was, in fact, detained in a different facility. This same type of mistaken transfer nearly happened in at least three other cases, and was only avoided by NIJC attorneys who caught the errors and informed government officials.
- ICE has failed to provide adequate notice to attorneys regarding the transfers and ultimate destinations for children and parents. Once a child is transferred to an ICE facility for reunification, attorneys do not receive further notice of the reunification plan. For nearly a week after two parent clients were transferred from a California ICE prison to the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas, they were unable to contact NIJC lawyers by phone, and relied on volunteer lawyers visiting the prison to communicate messages about their children’s wellbeing and post-reunification arrangements.
The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. Visit immigrantjustice.org and follow @NIJC.