ACLU says more than 900 migrant children separated from parents in last year

“It is shocking that the Trump administration continues to take babies from their parents,” the lead attorney in the family separation lawsuit said.
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Staff escort immigrants to class at the U.S. government's holding center for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas, on July 9, 2019.Eric Gay / AP

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By Daniella Silva

The American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal judge Tuesday to block the Trump administration from continuing to separate migrant children from their parents, saying in court documents that more than 900 children have been separated from their parents since the practice was ordered to be stopped last year.

“It is shocking that the Trump administration continues to take babies from their parents,” Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney in the family separation lawsuit and deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement Tuesday.

“Over 900 more families join the thousands of others previously torn apart by this cruel and illegal policy,” he said. “The administration must not be allowed to circumvent the court order over infractions like minor traffic violations.”

In the filing, made in the U.S. District Court in San Diego, the ACLU argued that the government was still separating families “based on minor criminal history, highly dubious allegations of unfitness, and errors in identifying bona fide parent-child relationships.” Between June 28 of 2018 and June 29 of this year, 911 children were separated from 844 parents, according to the ACLU, which cited information it had received from the government as part of the court case.

The attorneys asked the court to provide additional guidance on the criteria for separating families and “to reaffirm the basic premise of this Court’s preliminary injunction: that children should not be taken from their parents absent a determination that the parent is genuinely unfit or presents a true danger based on objective facts.”

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The ACLU said the Trump administration was separating young children “based on such offenses as traffic violations, misdemeanor property damage, and disorderly conduct violations.” Some of the offenses took place many years prior and others were for allegations or arrests without convictions, the lawyers wrote.

“Additionally, providers are reporting that parents are even being separated based on Defendants’ assertion that the parent does not appear be doing a proper job parenting or on the most dubious assertions that the parent has not sufficiently proven his or her relationship to the child,” the lawyers wrote.

In one case, a 1-year-old girl was separated from her father after a guard criticized him for not changing the little girl’s diaper while she was asleep, according to the court documents.

In another case, a 4-year-old boy was separated from his father because the man had a speech impediment that prevented him from answering an immigration official’s questions, according to the court documents.

The documents said children were also being separated from their parents over minor or nonviolent criminal histories including driving under the influence, marijuana possession convictions, fraud or forgery.

One child was separated from his parents over “malicious destruction of property value $5,” for which the man received a six-day jail sentence and six months’ probation, according to the documents.

Trump administration officials have said separations are “extraordinarily rare” and are done in the best interest of the child.

"This is carefully governed. It's overseen by a supervisor when those decisions are made," Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said this month.

The Department of Justice declined comment on the motion filed Tuesday by the ACLU.

Last June, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration reunite thousands of families affected by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which led to the separations. Attorneys in the case have said they do not yet have a complete list of families separated before the policy officially started, but well over 3,000 children have been affected.