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Despite Public Outrage, an Executive Order Purportedly Ending Family Separation and Two Court Decisions, the Trump Administration Remains Intent on Mass Family Detention and Separation

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After enormous public and political pressure, President Trump issued an executive order (E.O.) that purportedly put an end to family separation. However, since that E.O. was signed three weeks ago, only a few families separated by the Trump Administration have been reunited, even families with infants and toddlers and even in spite of a court order to do so.

Meanwhile, just days after the supposed end-family-separation E.O. was signed, the Department of Homeland Security sought information to establish new family detention facilities with up to 15,000 beds and internal documents obtained by Time show that the Department of Defense is preparing plans to house over 100,000 immigrants in sprawling tent cities. Just yesterday, Slate reported that they have obtained internal Office of Refugee Resettlement records showing the government is planning on a massive surge of parent-child separations. And in response to a Court denying the Trump Administration’s request to allow children to be detained for longer than 20 days, a requirement established by a voluntary agreement between the government and plaintiffs, the Department of Justice showed its true colors in a statement that doubles down on indefinite family detention and separation.

All these actions demonstrate that President Trump and his Administration have been and continue to be intent upon family separation and detention in spite of the executive order

Executive Order Fails to End Family Separation

The June 20 E.O. only aspires to keep families together saying the “policy of this Administration to maintain family unity.” But, there is no requirement that families be detained together; nor is there an explicit prohibition against family separation. Furthermore, the E.O. is silent on how families will be reunited.

Chaos, Records Destruction, Missed Court Deadlines for Family Reunification

On top of the E.O.’s silence on family reunification of about 3,000 already separated families, not even a court-imposed deadline to reunite families has been enough to secure reunification. On June 26, a federal court ordered the Trump Administration to reunite children under 5 with their parents within 14 days and children over 5 within 30 days. The Trump Administration likely missed yesterday’s 14-day deadline to reunite infants and toddlers, likely reuniting less than half of the approximate 100 children under five. With such difficulty reuniting just 100 children, it is unclear how the government intends to reunite the other 2,900 children over 5 that were separated by the Trump family separation policy by the July 27 court-imposed deadline.  

Although the government was able to separate 65 children per day, it has been unable to reunite 100 within a two-week deadline set by the court. The New York Times described a government in chaos over family reunification, partially due to destroyed documents: “The family separations…have produced a chaotic scramble as officials now face political and judicial pressure to reunite families. Records linking children to their parents have disappeared, and in some cases have been destroyed…leaving the authorities struggling to identify connections between family members.”

Even After the Flores Agreement was Reaffirmed by Court, DOJ is Still Seeking Family Separation and Detention Through Coercion

In a strongly-worded opinion issued on Monday, Judge Dolly Gee upheld a 20-year-old settlement agreement – Flores – that requires DHS to release children from detention within 20 days. The Trump Administration had requested the consent decree to be modified so that children could be detained for longer periods of time with their parents. Despite this clear defeat that should paved the way for asylum-seekers and their children to be released into the community, into alternatives to detention projects, the Department of Justice is promising to coerce asylum-seeking parents into a “Sophie’s choice” where they have to decide between jail for the entire family or jail for the parent so the child can be released to a sponsor.

Responding to Judge Gee’s decision, U.S. Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said:  “[T]he court does appear to acknowledge that parents who cross the border will not be released and must choose between remaining in family custody with their children pending immigration proceedings or requesting separation from their children so the child may be placed with a sponsor.”

DHS Efforts to Establish Mass and Indefinite Family Detention

With the Department of Justice clinging to its position of indefinite family detention and separation as described above, the motivation behind a recent request for information on large numbers of family detention facilities and plans for Department of Defense migrant tent facilities is clear.  

Just after the E.O. was signed, a public request for information was issued by the Department of Homeland Security to help DHS plan and strategize on how to detain massive numbers of families. The request sought information on as much as 15,000 family unit beds.  

In addition, an internal Navy document obtained by Time shows plans to house over 100,000 migrants:

The Navy memo outlines plans to build “temporary and austere” tent cities to house 25,000 migrants at abandoned airfields just outside the Florida panhandle near Mobile, Alabama, at Navy Outlying Field Wolf in Orange Beach, Alabama, and nearby Navy Outlying Field Silverhill.

The memo also proposes a camp for as many as 47,000 people at former Naval Weapons Station Concord, near San Francisco; and another facility that could house as many as 47,000 people at Camp Pendleton, the Marines’ largest training facility located along the Southern California coast. The planning memo proposes further study of housing an undetermined number of migrants at the Marine Corps Air Station near Yuma, Arizona.

Office of Refugee Resettlement Planning for Surge in Family Separation

Despite the purported end-of-family separation E.O., an internal memo was obtained by Slate that shows that ORR, the agency charged with the care and custody of separated children, is preparing for the possibility of housing 24,500, more than double the number of children in its custody today. It seeks to pay for this surge, in part, by taking money from key a HIV/AIDs program and the refugee resettlement budget.

To help cover these potential costs, the documents say, HHS will seek supplemental appropriations from Congress. The documents also indicate that HHS plans to pay for child separation by reallocating money from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which, according to its website, “provides a comprehensive system of care that includes primary medical care and essential support services for people living with HIV who are uninsured or underinsured.” Per the documents, the process of transferring those HIV/AIDS funds has already begun.

In addition, HHS plans to reallocate $79 million from programs for refugee resettlement, a move that could imperil social services, medical assistance, and English language instructions for refugees in the U.S., as well as programs for torture survivors.

Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch, said: “In spite of tremendous public and political pressure to end family separation, as well as court-imposed mandates to reunite families and keep children out of detention, this Administration refuses to back down from cruel and barbaric practices of family detention and separation. It has done so at all cost, including by coercing parents into separation, taking money from crucial HIV/AIDs and refugee resettlement funds, and by erecting ominous tent cities filled with families. This is not the America I know.”