Trump administration cites success in migrant-family reunification effort, but what of ‘deleted families’?

Photo Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre/For The Washington Post as reported on 7/28/18.

Photo Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre/For The Washington Post as reported on 7/28/18.

By Thursday, July 26, when a court-ordered deadline loomed for the Trump administration to reunite hundreds of migrant families, government officials reported compliance.

The Washington Post reported on 7/26, “At the expiration of a 30-day court deadline to reunite migrant families separated during its ‘zero tolerance’ border crackdown, the Trump administration said Thursday it has delivered 1,412 children to parents in immigration custody and was on track to return all of those it determined were eligible for reunification.”

“President Trump ordered an end to family separations June 20 amid public outcry and spreading criticism within his own political party, as searing accounts emerged of traumatized children and anguished parents. Within days, Judge Dana M. Sabraw of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, a Republican appointee, ordered the government to return children to their parents and imposed deadlines,” the Post reported.

However, some families, termed “deleted family units,” could not be reunited by the deadline. There was no classification for more than 2,600 children who had been separated from their families and placed in government shelters. According to a The Washington Post report on 7/28, when Customs and Border Protection “sent that information to the refugee office at the Department of Health and Human Services, which was told to facilitate the reunifications, the office’s database did not have a column for families with that designation.”

“After his 30-day deadline to reunite the ‘deleted’ families passed Thursday, U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw lambasted the government for its lack of preparation and coordination,” reported The Washington Post.

The article continues, “‘There were three agencies, and each was like its own stovepipe. Each had its own boss, and they did not communicate,’ Sabraw said Friday at a court hearing in San Diego. ‘What was lost in the process was the family. The parents didn’t know where the children were, and the children didn’t know where the parents were. And the government didn’t know either.’”

ACLU alleges abuse of children by Customs and Border Protection

University of Chicago Law School students review documents with professor Claudia Flores, the director of the school's International Human Rights Clinic. (Photo credit: Lloyd DeGrane / University of Chicago Law School as reported by The Chicago Tribune )

University of Chicago Law School students review documents with professor Claudia Flores, the director of the school’s International Human Rights Clinic. (Photo credit: Lloyd DeGrane / University of Chicago Law School as reported by The Chicago Tribune )

Immigrant children who crossed the border suffered abuse and neglect from federal officials, according to a report released May 23 by the ACLU’s Border Litigation Project in partnership with the University of Chicago Law School.

“Elbowing children in the stomach. Lifting a child by the neck. Kicking a child in the ribs. These are all things the American Civil Liberties Union says immigrant children who crossed the border alone experienced while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection,” The Chicago Tribune reports.

Unaccompanied children who cross the border are placed in juvenile detention centers while they await court decisions on whether they can be released to a relative in the U.S., or if they will remain in custody or be deported.

The allegations stemmed from a review of 30,000 pages of documents by three law students, according to Claudia Flores, director of the University of Chicago’s International Human Rights Clinic.

Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Daniel Hetlage said in a statement that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General completed an investigation and found that the claims were unsubstantiated.

Congresswoman: Give Those Border Kids An Attorney

A group of immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally are stopped in Granjeno, Texas, in June. (Eric Gay / Associated Press )

A group of immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally are stopped in Granjeno, Texas, in June. (Eric Gay / Associated Press )

U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren and 54 of her House colleagues have introduced a bill that would provide government-appointed attorneys to help them navigate the immigration asylum process. The Los Angeles Times, in a detailed report, says that “… Eleven California Democrats have co-sponsored the bill, which has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where Lofgren is the highest-ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.”

The newspaper explains that “… because being present in the U.S. illegally is a civil offense, there is no right to an attorney during immigration or asylum proceedings. That means many children stand alone before an immigration judge when they ask to stay in this country.” When unaccompanied children started arriving at the border in large numbers a couple of years ago, it is worth noting, they often did not sneak into the country but sought asylum at the border. We have called them “Border kids.”

Now the San Jose Democrat and 54 of her House colleagues have put forth a bill to argue that, at a minimum, children and people with certain disabilities should have government-appointed attorneys to help them navigate the asylum process. Eleven California Democrats have co-sponsored the bill, which has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where Lofgren is the highest-ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.

The U.S. Senate’s lone former immigration lawyer, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), has co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill led by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). It remains unclear if any Republicans will support the bill.

Read the well-researched L.A. Times story here: ‘We have a moral obligation': Lawmakers want the U.S. to provide attorneys for immigrant children

‘Rocket Dockets’ Set For Border-Children Immigration

The federal government is creating “rocket dockets” to process unaccompanied border children, hoping to slow the flow of children by showing a policy of quick returns. Critics are responding that the new practice moves too quickly in a system inadequate to provide legally required court oversight and without a system for legal representation. 
 
The U.K.-based Guardian newspaper has a good overview, reporting that “.. under normal rules, the recent arrivals would have queued at the tail-end of a backlogged system where migrants wait months or years for hearings at overstretched immigration courts… instead, with Republicans accusing the president of neglecting border security, the administration vaulted the newly arrived children to the front of the line, and said they would have initial court hearings within 21 days.”
 
They also cite a California-based critic: “We appreciate the government’s attempt to deal with these [new] cases expeditiously, but not to this extreme. We think 21 days is too fast. Maybe 60 days would be preferable,” said Caitlin Sanderson, director of the Los Angeles-based Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, which has staff attorneys representing about 270 children pro bono.