Report: Families Are Being Separated at the Border Over False Allegations

The “zero tolerance” policy ended last June, but family separations continue. Photo: Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Eight months after the official end of the Trump administration’s family separation policy, the practice continues, according to the Texas Civil Rights Project, which claims that border agents are making plenty of mistakes.

In a report examining cases between June 22 and December 17 in McAllen, Texas, the group identified 38 cases of migrant families getting torn apart, NBC News reports. The Department of Homeland Security maintains that, since the end of the “zero tolerance” policy last summer, it is only separating families when the adult is not the child’s parent or guardian, the child’s safety is at risk, or the parent is judged to have committed “serious criminal activity.”

One problem with the recent separations though, according to the Texas Civil Rights Project, is that some are being made due to “uncorroborated allegations.” Take, for instance, the story of one Guatemalan man and his 2-year-old daughter.

One of those cases involved Mr. Perez-Domingo, an indigenous migrant father from Guatemala whose primary language is Mam, according to the report. Perez-Domingo was separated from his 2-year-old daughter in July after being accused by Customs and Border Protection of not being the girl’s biological father and providing a fraudulent birth certificate, according to the report. He was not given an interpreter during his interview.

The civil rights group said it investigated the incident and discovered the birth certificate was authentic and a DNA test determined Perez-Domingo was the child’s father. They were reunited in August.

The report also includes the story of man whose two children were taken from him due to suspected gang ties. The Texas Civil Rights Project says it looked into the man’s past and found no gang affiliation at all.

Why are these mistakes being made? One possibility, outlined today in USA Today, is that the process for determining which families are separated is, in the words of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “brief and expeditious in nature.” The decision is also left solely to the discretion of CBP agents, who observe families during processing and make a judgement on whether they think abuse has occurred.

This is the type of work that, outside of migrant processing centers, is done by child welfare experts. Vivek Sankaran, an expert on the subject, told USA Today: “It is universal among mental health professionals that the idea of removing a child from a parent is one of the most traumatic things we as a society can do to the child. So you want somebody who has been very well-trained to make sure that we need to inflict (a separation) on the child.”

Families are also being separated when a parent has a criminal history that may not call for separation, Michelle Brané of the Women’s Refugee Commission told USA Today. “If you have a shoplifting conviction, or didn’t pay child support, or you stole a car, does that really put the child at risk?”

In a statement to NBC News, CBP criticized the report from the Texas Civil Rights Project, calling it “flawed.”

Migrants Families Are Being Separated Over False Allegations