WASHINGTON — Twenty-eight migrant children and their parents are now facing deportation after the parents and children refused to be separated in detention and then lost an appeal in federal court for the right to claim asylum in the U.S., according to lawyers representing the families.
During the summer, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) gave the parents the choice between keeping their children with them in detention centers where the risk of contracting Covid-19 was rising or releasing their children from detention without them. All chose to stay in detention with their children, even as the time in detention for many of them stretched past 400 days.
In July, a federal judge ruled the children should be released from the centers, potentially triggering separations, but later that order was deemed "unenforceable."
The "stay of deportation" that allowed the families to stay in the U.S. expired on Sunday, according to court documents, and the families are pleading with courts, Congress and ICE not to deport them until their asylum claims have been heard.
Because they crossed the U.S. border during President Donald Trump's policy that prohibits immigrants from claiming asylum in the U.S. if they have passed through another country where they could have sought asylum, they were not able to make their claim before an immigration judge. The policy has since been overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but immigrants who entered the U.S. when it was in place were not helped by the decision.
Democratic Sens. Bob Casey and Corey Booker wrote to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on Friday, urging him not to deport the families, who are being held in Pennsylania and Texas.
"With more pressing issues facing ICE and the need to spend our limited federal resources wisely, there are more cost effective and humane approaches to this situation," the senators said. "We urge you to release these families to their sponsors and allow them a fair hearing of their case."
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Their letter featured the stories of some of the children facing detention.
One child, 11-year-old Juan David, said, "I am detained with my mom. The 27th of this month, we will complete 15 months of detention. They asked me why I am afraid to return to my country. I'm afraid that the gangsters will hurt me, that they will kill me and my mom. That's why I ask God to soften the hearts of the asylum officers and that I can go live with my aunt and uncle in New York… I want to have a normal life, make friends, go to a normal school, be with my family, living a normal life. Here, I always have a headache and anxiety."
In a statement, ICE said it would not comment on the ongoing litigation, but that it "continues to safely conduct the release, transfer, and removal of families housed at the Berks Family Residential Center" in Pennsylvania.