During a six-week period last spring, the Trump administration separated roughly 2,700 migrant children from their parents, as part of a “zero tolerance” policy meant to deter Central American families from asserting their legal right to seek asylum in the United States. This proved to be unpopular. And after six weeks of protests, and heartrending news reports cataloguing the traumas of neglected small children, the president promised to stop using the mass psychological torture of minors as a method of border enforcement. On June 20, 2018, Donald Trump said that the “policy of this administration is to maintain family unity” except in cases where the parent poses “a risk” to his or her child. Six weeks later, a federal judge in California ordered the administration to reunite the families it had separated (a process that it may never fully complete).
Since then, the U.S. government has separated an additional 911 migrant children from their parents or guardians, according to new documents filed in federal court Tuesday.
That figure was unearthed by the ACLU’s Immigrants Rights Project this week as part of a motion accusing the Trump administration of defying a federal court order to cease separating migrant families, unless such an action is genuinely necessary to protect a child’s safety or well-being. The government insists that it is compliant with the judge’s order, and that separations have been “extraordinarily rare,” and limited exclusively to circumstances where child welfare was at stake. U.S. Customs and Border Protection have apprehended roughly 400,000 families this year.
But the ACLU begs to differ. As the Washington Post reports:
In a lengthy court filing in U.S. District Court in San Diego, lawyers wrote that one migrant lost his daughter because a U.S. Border Patrol agent claimed that he had failed to change the girl’s diaper. Another migrant lost his child because of an outstanding warrant on a destruction of property charge with alleged damage of $5. One father, who lawyers say has a speech impediment, was separated from his 4-year-old son because he could not clearly answer Customs and Border Protection agents’ questions.
In other instances, migrant parents were separated from their children after agents found red flags in their criminal records — specifically, traffic violations.
“They’re taking what was supposed to be a narrow exception for cases where the parent was genuinely a danger to the child and using it as a loophole to continue family separation,” the ACLU’s attorney Lee Gelernt told the Post. “What everyone understands intuitively and what the medical evidence shows, this will have a devastating effect on the children and possibly cause permanent damage to these children, not to mention the toll on the parents.”
It is worth noting that a master’s of social work, or any other form of expertise in child welfare, is not a job requirement for the DHS officials who are deciding which migrant children must be separated from their parents for their own good.
In its motion Tuesday, the ACLU asked U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw to provide more specific set of standards for when such child-welfare separations are justified to ensure that the government does not abuse the exemption.