tags: , , , AVEF, Press Releases

It’s Past Time for the Trump Administration to Return Deported Parents to the U.S. to Reunite with Children

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One Month After Court’s Reunification Deadline, Some 500 Children Remain Separated

According to yesterday’s report to the federal judge overseeing the reunification of parents and children separated under Trump’s family separation policy — one month after the court-imposed deadline — 497 children remain separated, including 22 under the age of 5.  Of those, 322 children have parents who were deported, many under duress and alleged coercion by immigration officials.  

After months of separation, deported parents are desperate to reunite with their children and their lawyers have been asking the government to allow parents the option to return to the U.S. under “parole” for reunification and to pursue asylum claims.  So far, the Trump administration has refused to offer parole and the court overseeing the matter has not ordered it.

Multiple Senators and Members of Congress Support Parole

On August 14, 17 senators, led by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen explaining that “[h]undreds of parents reportedly were not given an option of reunifying with their children prior to their removal…and some allege that DHS employees made them believe that agreeing to deportation was the only way to ever see their children again or that waiving their asylum rights would expedite their family reunification.”  Therefore, the senators called for “an opportunity [for parents] to return to the United States on a grant of humanitarian parole…to reunite with their child. Such reunited families in turn should be released into the community to pursue claims for asylum or other forms of protection for which they may be eligible.”

On August 29, 67 members of the House of Representatives, led by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), sent a similar letter, explaining that children with deported parents face potential indefinite separation under the Trump administration’s plan to reunite deported parents with children because the government is only allowing for reunification in the country of origin.  Noting “widespread reports that hundreds of parents received inadequate or misleading information regarding their rights, their children’s rights, and the waiver process prior to their deportation, the members of Congress said, “Such a requirement encourages families to abandon legal claims to protection and deprives families of the opportunity to confer with one another and with legal counsel before making a life-changing decision.”  Therefore, the members of Congress “urge DHS to…offer deported parents humanitarian parole for family reunification. Families rejoined…should subsequently be released into the community on alternatives to detention to assert claims for any legal protection for which they may qualify, including asylum.”

Additional Solutions: Stop Pending Parent Deportations & Presumption of Reunification

According to the latest report to the court, 166 children have parents who “indicated desire against reunification,” including some who have not yet been deported.  As the letter to Secretary Nielsen from 17 senators states, considering alarming “reports suggesting that some parents may be relinquishing this right under coercion and duress,” DHS should:

…stay the removal of all parents who have relinquished their rights to reunite with their children until they have had a sufficient opportunity to consult with an attorney….Following such legal consultation, DHS should provide these parents with a new opportunity to reunite with their children and should release these families into the community to pursue claims for asylum or other forms of protection for which they may be eligible.

The letter from 67 members of Congress made similar demands.

Also according to the latest report to the court, the Trump administration says 56 children are “ineligible” for reunification due to “red flags.”  As the letter from 17 senators states, “the government has failed to provide detailed information regarding its allegations of parental ineligibility…and no process exists for parents to challenge such determinations.”  Furthermore, as 67 members of Congress explain, “Neither DHS nor the Department of Health and Human Services is the proper government agency to issue weighty legal determinations regarding parental rights that are typically handled by state child welfare agencies and state court systems.”  Instead, as 17 Senators explain, DHS should:

…adopt a presumption of reunification for families with parents who are now deemed “ineligible” for reunification….We ask DHS to immediately inform all such parents…about the specific bases of determinations of ineligibility…and provide them with all evidence….Parents in turn must be given an opportunity, with assistance of counsel, to rebut any such evidence.  If there is credible evidence that a parent poses an imminent risk of harm to their child and a parent is unable to rebut that evidence, a state child welfare agency, not the federal government, is the appropriate entity to determine whether there is abuse or neglect or a child cannot safely be placed in their parent’s care.

Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch, a project of America’s Voice, said:  

Unfortunately, more than a month after the court-ordered deadline, insufficient progress has been made by the Trump administration to reunite all separated families.  As a current administration official recently stated, the administration started with no plan to reunify because, ‘The expectation was that the kids would go to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, that the parents would get deported, and that no one would care.’

But people do care, evidently more than the government officials who separated them.  They deleted family units from computer systems making it a thousand times more difficult to reunify families.  They coerced parents into deportation without their children and pressured parents into signing away their rights to asylum and their children.  The administration even had the gall to tell the federal judge who ordered the reunification that it was not the administration’s responsibility to find the parents it deported, which the judge rejected.  So it’s no surprise that the Trump administration has, so far, refused to parole parents to reunify with separated children.

The sad result is almost 500 children, 22 under the age of 5, are still separated from their parents.  This administration should immediately devote multiple resources to finding parents it deported, parole parents into the U.S. to reunite them with their children, and do everything it can to end this barbaric separation of children from their parents.