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Family Separation Continues With No Process & No Accountability

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Over six months after the Trump administration was forced to “end” the policy of family separation of migrants, following massive public outcry, Alan Gomez of USA Today and a new report by the Texas Civil Rights Project expose that the administration is still needlessly and quietly ripping apart families.

The Texas Civil Rights Project’s new report shows 272 family separations in a single Texas court since June, while USA Today’s Alan Gomez writes that normal child welfare protections and accountability are lacking and based on decisions made by low-level immigration enforcement personnel using a loophole in the law.  In so doing, the Trump Administration is dangerously carrying out separations with little to no due process and no way to appeal.

According to Pili Tobar, Deputy Director of America’s Voice:

What the administration is doing is quiet, hidden, unethical and unthinkable.  Separating families is in and of itself an unnecessary cruelty, but to do so without any process or protocol, hidden from public view, is dangerous and reckless. We know taking children from their parents causes irreparable damage and long lasting trauma to children and families. Family separations must be stopped and Trump and this administration must be held responsible for their actions.

Alan Gomez’s piece is excerpted below, and available online here.

The Trump administration has been blocked from systematically breaking up migrant families, but hundreds of children crossing the border continue to be separated from their parents in a process requiring none of the oversight used to removechildren in the United States from their homes, according to a USA TODAY review of the system.

Separating a child from a family in most communities requires a child welfare specialist and involvement of the judicial system, often with a judge scrutinizing the case for months or even years.

At the border, the removal decision is made solely by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in the field. No child welfare specialist is required, and no judge is involved in a decision that cannot be appealed.

Rebekah Fletcher, a supervising attorney at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a group that provides lawyers to migrant children in U.S. courts, says the removal of a child from a family in the U.S. is, by design, a difficult, multi-layered process involving multiple people from multiple branches of government. But not so for children at the border.

“To put those similar types of determinations solely in CBP’s hands … the room for error and the room for misinterpretation is dangerously high,” she said.

…President Donald Trump and U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw both ordered the Department of Homeland Security to stop separating migrant families as a systemic practice in June.

However, there is an exception: When a parent presents a danger to a child.

What constitutes a “danger” is not clearly defined, but can include obvious cases of abuse, where the child is covered in bruises, and harder-to-detect cases, where immigration agents believe a child is in peril.

In the seven months after Trump and Sabraw issued their orders, Homeland Security separated at least 218 children from their parents in part by using the danger exception, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which takes custody of the children once the family is separated.

Immigration attorneys and family law experts say the process being used to separate children, most commonly carried out by CBP agents, has been shrouded in mystery, provides no due process for the parents and is vulnerable to abuse or mistakes.

…ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said the most recent separation cases have shown that the government may be abusing that exception and plans to tell the judge this during Thursday’s hearing.

…Gil Kerlikowske, who headed CBP in the Obama administration, said in an interview that migrants are being screened at one of the most stressful moments of their lives, having just completed an exhausting journey across Mexico where they are frequently victims of robberies, kidnappings and sexual assaults.

Kerlikowske said CBP agents are operating without information that is available in normal child abuse investigations, including a list of official visits to the home, and interviews with neighbors and relatives.

An Associated Press reports on the Texas Civil Right Project’s new report – excerpted below, and available online here.

Months after the Trump administration announced an end to its widescale separation of migrant parents and children, the policy remains a heated issue in the courts and at the border as critics contend the government is still needlessly breaking up immigrant families.

The Texas Civil Rights Project released a report Thursday that counts 272 separations at a single Texas courthouse since June, when President Donald Trump issued an executive order ending widespread separations amid public outrage.

The bulk of those cases involve children who cross the U.S.-Mexico border with relatives other than their parents, such as grandparents, uncles and aunts, or adult siblings.

…The government and the American Civil Liberties Union were due back in court Thursday to discuss what might be thousands of children who were separated before a June court order requiring the speedy re-unification of families.

…“What’s happening is the government is doing separations unilaterally without any process to contest the separations and without a child welfare expert overseeing the separations,” ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said.

…U.S. immigration authorities say that under anti-trafficking law, children crossing the border without a parent or legal guardian must be processed as “unaccompanied,” even if they are with an adult who isn’t their parent or legal guardian.

…“If you don’t come with a parent, but you come with an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, or a brother, you are defined as unaccompanied,” said Shalala, a former health and human services secretary. “We need to get these children to family members much more quickly.”

The government said in December it had separated 81 migrant children at the border since the June executive order. According to the government data, 197 adults and 139 minors were separated from April 19 through Sept. 30 because they were found to not be related, though that could include grandparents or other relatives if there was no proof of relationship.

The Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general said last month that 118 children were separated from their parents from July 1 through Nov. 7.