The Trump administration continues to use the cover of the COVID-19 crisis to advance a host of nativist policies. In a must-read article in the LA Times, Molly O’Toole illustrates cruel and exploitative actions such as rushing the deportation of migrant children back to danger, backlogging asylum cases for these families and reconstituting a policy of family separations both for those already in family detention and for those seeking asylum. O’Toole focuses on one family’s separation story where the children have deportation orders hanging over their heads.
In her piece, “Family separation returns under cover of the coronavirus” O’Toole underscores the administration’s willful neglect of migrants looking for a safe haven for their families citing the coronavirus as a viable excuse to seal the border against them and offering families a forced choice between being separated from their children or waiving their legal rights and being sent back into harm’s way via deportation together.
O’Toole’s reporting is excerpted below and is available in full here:
…This is the new family separation, two years after taking kids from their parents at the border blew up into a crisis for the Trump administration. Citing the coronavirus to seal the border to an unprecedented extent, the administration is engaged in a pressure campaign against immigrant parents to get them to give up either their kids or their legal claims to protection in the U.S.
…ICE officials this month presented the roughly 180 parents in its custody with the choice of separating from their children or remaining indefinitely detained with them, according to government filings in court and legal service providers.
…“Whatever you want to call it,” said [Bridget] Cambria [of the Aldea People’s Center in Pennsylvania]. “It’s asking mothers and fathers to give up their kids.”
In less than a year, the two oldest girls [ages 16 and 14] and their little brother [age 10] have gone from safe-houses in El Salvador to a tent on the Rio Grande to a government shelter, and now to a home in a Washington suburb with a green lawn, a bicycle and a driveway.
…In roughly four months in Matamoros, the kids had “suffered physical and sexual assault; endured illness, extreme temperatures, and malnutrition,” according to a legal filing. Ten days after the judge ruled, Jose and his wife decided she should take the children to the bridge and send them across the border on their own.
Many parents have chosen to take that chance rather than risk keeping their children in the refugee camps along the border.
If the children agreed to “their expeditious and immediate repatriation to El Salvador” and withdrew their suits against the government, and if their mother presented herself at the border, ICE would deport them together to El Salvador, “thus, ensuring that Plaintiffs remain in the care of a parent.”
But, they warned in a footnote, should Jose’s wife try to pursue her immigration case, they could send the kids to El Salvador alone.
“You’re taking a nine-year-old child, removing that child from the parent and sending that child to a place in which the child has no guardian.”
…Meanwhile, ICE’s stay is at the agency’s discretion; Jose’s kids still face removal orders. If he ultimately wins asylum, he likely could include his children, and potentially their mother.
In Matamoros, she said she will never allow her children to return to El Salvador.
“My wish is to be with my children there in America one day,” she said. “But if it is my turn to return, I have already lived my life. They are just beginning to live.”