US immigration officials have been instructed to ask parents separated from their children under Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy to choose whether to return to their countries with – or without – their offspring.
(AhlulBayt News Agency) - US immigration officials have been instructed to ask parents separated from their children under Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy to choose whether to return to their countries with – or without – their offspring.
The instructions, laid out in a government form, come one week after a judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite the roughly 2,300 migrant children who were ripped apart from their parents at the border.
The form, which was first reported by NBC News, presents two options to migrant parents as part of a notice for removal from the United States: “I am requesting to reunite with my child(ren) for the purpose of repatriation to my country of citizenship” or “I am affirmatively, knowingly and voluntarily requesting to return to my country of citizenship without my minor child(ren) who I understand will remain in the United States to pursue available claims of relief”.
Disturbing reports have already emerged about parents deported involuntarily without their children.
Immigration advocates have objected to the form, citing asylum laws that allow for migrants to pursue their claims even if they have been issued an order for deportation.
Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said the form did not provide an option for migrants to challenge their removal before a judge.
“The government is misleading parents into thinking they can only get their child back if they agree to removal,” said Gelernt.
The ACLU is leading a lawsuit to stop the Trump administration from separating families and to swiftly reunite parents and children.
The issue has emerged among the most controversial of Trump’s presidency. Last week, a judge in the southern district of California ordered the US government to reunite parents with children under the age of five within 14 days and ordered that all other children separated from their parents be reunited within 30 days.
The Trump administration has nonetheless provided little clarity on its plans to reunite families.
“Right now, we don’t know of any comprehensive plan the government has,” said Gelernt. “We’re concerned both about whether they’re going to meet the deadlines and whether there is noncompliance.”
The ACLU is in the midst of negotiating with the government to get a list of every parent separated from a child. The parties are scheduled to appear before a court in San Diego on Friday, which marks another deadline set out by last week’s preliminary injunction – that detained parents be allowed to speak to their children over the phone within a period of 10 days.
In the 26 June ruling, Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the Trump administration to stop deporting parents without their children unless the parent “affirmatively, knowingly and voluntarily” agreed to being removed from the country alone. It is not known how many parents were deported without their children prior to the judge’s decision.
Government officials have privately acknowledged they are struggling to meet the judge’s deadline to reunite families. According to a report in Politico published on Monday, staffers at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal division that oversees unaccompanied migrant children, said they had yet to receive instructions on how to proceed.
The health and human services secretary, Alex Azar, testified before Congress last week that “several hundreds” of children who were being held in detention centers and migrant shelters had been reunited with parents or relatives. Azar estimated that as of last Monday, 2,047 children remained in the custody of the US government. Those numbers have not been independently verified.
A group of Democratic senators demanded further updates in a letter sent to the Trump administration on Monday.
“We are deeply concerned by reports of chaotic attempts to reunify parents and children that have been separated at the border,” the letter, which was addressed to Azar and the secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen, stated. “The hastily-signed order provided no clarity on how to reunify families, or how to handle families that have already been separated or new families that cross the border seeking asylum.”
The letter sought a list of separated children, names of parents or adult relatives, and another list linking the two.