Recent NBC News and Los Angeles Times reports illustrate the inhumane and predictable effects of DHS’s new policy of prosecuting every immigrant who crosses the border without inspection. Parents who come to the United States seeking safety for their children are instead being separated and prosecuted criminally, with no knowledge of where their children are being taken.
So far, there are no answers – not from anyone with authority – federal judges, public defenders, or even DHS – the agency that separates children from parents.
Keeping parents in contact with children as parents go through criminal prosecution and incarceration is a basic child welfare principle, especially considering the documented harm caused by parent child-separation, but DHS has no system in place to ensure contact. To the contrary, parents are not told where their children are, and communication is often impossible. Parents are routinely deported without their children and with little or no information on how to contact them.
One father was quoted as saying: “I brought her to protect her and now I don’t even know where she is.”
Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch, a project of America’s Voice, said:
Implementing a parent-child separation policy is cruel in itself and prosecuting parents, many legally seeking protection from harm in home countries, may violate both international obligations and U.S. law. But it is a new low to implement a policy that detrimentally affects children without any process that incorporates basic child welfare principles.
NBC News: “‘Anguish’ at southwest border as more immigrant children are separated from parents,” 5/22/18
The Trump administration’s willingness to take children from their parents has raised concerns about how far authorities should go to stem unauthorized border crossings and what human cost is acceptable in the name of border security and immigration control.
“There is something terrible happening here that Americans would not support if they understood it,” said F. Scott McCown, director of the Children’s Rights Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.
Nogueras [a public defender] repeatedly used a single word when he described how those parents have responded: “anguish.”
“Wouldn’t you feel anguish if they took your kids? I’d be going crazy. It’s inhumane,” he said.
Other attorneys and advocates have reported similar torment among immigrant parents.
“One of my lawyers came back from meeting his new client at the jail — and this is a very experienced criminal defense lawyer — who was shaken by the experience of talking to a parent whose child was literally ripped from their arms,” said Maureen Franco, a federal public defender for the Western District of Texas.
Los Angeles Times: “New ‘zero tolerance’ immigration crackdown fills border courts,” 5/18/18
The status of children is a constant theme [in these federal prosecutions]. After Nogueras [a public defender] told the group [of immigrants waiting to be prosecuted] that the judge “knows many of you have been separated from your children and want to reunite,” a man with graying hair raised his hand.
“I have a question about my son: Is he going back with me to my country?” said Calixton Ramon-Mateo, a Guatemalan who had pleaded guilty to crossing illegally with his 9-year-old.
Nogueras didn’t have an answer. Neither did the judge or Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials who had escorted the group to court.
On Tuesday, a migrant mother from Guatemala apologized to [Federal District Court Judge] Ormsby for crossing illegally into surrounding Hidalgo County on Saturday. She started to cry as she pleaded with him to reunite her with her 9-year-old daughter.
“She’s already had three operations on her eyes. At her age, she can’t read because of the problems with her eyes,” said Mildred Lucia Rojas-Quevedo de Roguel, 37, a slight redhead in a black jacket who had no criminal record.”I will go back to my country, but I need my daughter.”
She was sentenced to time served and sent back to detention to await a hearing on her immigration case. It was unclear when, or if, she would see her daughter.