The Justice Dept. Admits It May Have Separated American Citizens At The Border

So, about that “zero tolerance” policy toward immigration…

The same day the Trump administration missed the deadline federal judge Dana Sabraw imposed to reunite all 102 children under age 5 separated from their parents at the Southern border with Mexico, the Department of Justice (DOJ) admitted it may have mistakenly separated a father and toddler who could have been U.S. citizens.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Immigrants’ Rights Project deputy director, Lee Gelernt, stated about the discovery he calls “horrific”:

“The fact that a citizen got caught up in this mess shows just how poor the government’s record-keeping was, and this is just the latest example.” 

At a hearing Tuesday, the Justice Dept. was asked to account for each failed reunification. There were 27 cases, it stated, in which reunification was not possible, one “because the parent’s location has been unknown for more than a year…and records show the parent and child might be U.S. citizens.”

This is a slight deviation from an initial DOJ report asserting the child’s father could not be located.

Gelernt, who along with the court was not aware of the error until Tuesday, argued:

“It actually happens much more frequently than you would believe. They [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] make mistakes.”

That means there are potentially more American citizens out there the federal government has separated from their families.

Children under age five represent 5% of the 2,000 to 3,000 total separated children in the past few months; however, the government admits it does not have an exact figure.

New York’s Legal Aid Society is representing at least two of the children under five.

According to Beth Krause, supervising attorney for Legal Aid’s Immigrant Youth Project, one boy from El Salvador was supposed to be released to his mother, but Krause has no idea “where, when, under what conditions.” Another boy from Honduras is to remain with a foster family while his father is in government custody, although Krause does not know why.

She said:

“I know very, very little about this case. It’s all very frustrating.”

Because of injunctions from Sabraw and another federal court judge, the Trump administration announced it would be returning to the “catch-and-release” policy immigration officials practiced under the previous administration, and implement an ankle monitor system to track migrant families.

According to Tuesday’s filing from the ACLU and the DOJ, 34 children were expected to be reunited with their parents by the deadline. 17 were unlikely to be; 10 cannot be because their parents are in federal custody; 16 won’t be due to safety concerns, like parental criminal histories and communicable diseases; 12 will not be because their parents have been deported. Eight parents have been released from custody but will likely not be vetted in time.

On Monday, a federal judge in California rejected a DOJ request to permit migrant children’s long-term detention, meaning the Justice Dept. can no longer separate families or detain them together in detention without violating federal laws.

Image credit: KCUR

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, Liberal Nation Rising, and Medium.