President Trump, judging by his words and actions, hates illegal immigration and any policy put in place by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama. But like Obama, he is finding his immigration policy constrained by a 1997 consent decree, court rulings, and public opinion. So for now, The New York Times says, the Trump administration is "effectively returning to the 'catch and release' policy that President Trump promised to eliminate." Federal officials say border agents have stopped referring migrant parents with children for prosecution, and migrant parents with kids under 5 are being fitted with ankle bracelets and released into the community.
"Catch and release is a term with no legal definition and has been used as a pejorative alternative to jailing illegal immigrants," and ending the policy has been a top priority for Trump and the border agent union that endorsed him, the Times notes. "The use of ankle bands for migrant families may be short-lived," however.
In court on Tuesday, Justice Department lawyers told U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw that the Trump administration believes it can force migrant parents to choose between waiving their right to keep custody of their children while they await legal proceedings or agreeing to be detained as a family for more than the 20 days typically allowed under the Flores agreement consent decree. Sabraw said he would consider allowing that choice and asked the government lawyers and ACLU attorney representing the migrants what would happen if the parents declined to waive either right. ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said the parents would have to sue the government, but "we are hopeful the government will do the right thing."
In any case, the Health and Human Service Department, which houses the forcibly separated migrant kids, is preparing for a huge surge in child separations, diverting funding from other HHS programs, Slate reports, citing internal HHS documents. Peter Weber
There were tears of joy and tears of anguish as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reunited 34 of the 102 children under 5 it had been ordered to return to their parents by Tuesday. (Four other kids had been returned to their parents before Tuesday.) And the federal judge who set the deadline, Dana Sabraw, was not amused. "These are firm deadlines, they're not aspirational goals," he told government lawyers. He asked an ACLU lawyer to propose punishments if the government missed the Tuesday deadline for at least 63 children and the July 26 deadline to reunite parents with the roughly 3,000 older children U.S. border agents forcibly separated under President Trump's "zero tolerance" policy.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which provided the 34-returned-children number, blamed safety concerns for the delay, saying it found parents with criminal backgrounds and five adults who DNA tests showed were not the child's parent. In a court filing Tuesday, the Justice Department gave other extenuating circumstances, including one young child who can't be returned because the whereabouts of his parents are unknown and "records show the parent and child might be U.S. citizens." Judge Sabraw wasn't swayed, conceding only that it would take more time to reunite the 20 children whose parents had already been deported.
Tuesday's secretive reunification effort was full of the "chaos, confusion, and legal wrangling" that has accompanied Trump's zero tolerance policy, the Los Angeles Times notes. Some reunions were happy, like a handful of Central American fathers reunited with their young kids in Texas and Michigan; they were "just holding them and hugging them and telling them that everything was fine and that they were never going to be separated again," immigration lawyer Abril Valdes said of three dads in Michigan. In Arizona, on the other hand, a few mothers were met with rejection from toddlers who appeared not to recognize them after months of separation, The New York Times reports. Peter Weber
The 54 migrant kids ICE is reuniting with their parents Tuesday will be transported in secret caravans
On Tuesday, the Trump administration will reunite 54 migrant children under 5 with their parents, Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian said Monday. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who set a Tuesday deadline for the Trump administration to reunite all 102 under-5 kids separated from their parents under President Trump's "zero tolerance" border policy, acknowledged Monday that some reunification cases "will necessitate additional time." He ordered the Justice Department and ACLU back in court Tuesday to update him and adjudicate protocols on reuniting children.
Fabian was reticent about the administration's reunification plans, citing safety, but The New York Times says "the operation will be carried out with an unusual level of secrecy" by the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arm. That's pretty unorthodox, the Times adds:
A person familiar with the reunification plan said managers at the sites where younger children are being housed have been instructed that they are to put the children in vans on Tuesday and take them to locations that are as yet unknown to them. ... The plan for Tuesday was unusual not only for its secrecy, but for its oversight: The Homeland Security Department is not typically involved directly in family reunifications. Until now, most such reunifications have occurred at migrant youth shelters, many of which are run by contractors. Those contractors, however, do not appear to be actively involved in the reunifications planned for this week. [The New York Times]
Fabian said the reunited families will be released until their immigration cases are concluded, though Guatemala's vice minister of foreign affairs said 11 reunified families are expected to be deported to Guatemala on Tuesday. Fabian said that nine parents of children under 5 have already been deported without their children, nine parents were released and their whereabouts are unknown, and other migrant parents have criminal records that preclude them being reunited with their kids. One child, age 3, has not been matched with a parent yet. Peter Weber
On Monday evening, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles denied the Trump administration's request to modify a 1997 consent decree to allow migrant families to be detained together for long periods and in unlicensed facilities. The Justice Department's request for changes in the Flores agreement, she wrote, was "a cynical attempt" to shift immigration policymaking to the courts after "over 20 years of congressional inaction and ill-considered executive action that have led to the current stalemate." Gee had rejected a similar request to modify the Flores agreement by former President Barack Obama's administration in 2015, and she said Monday that President Trump's Justice Department had failed to offer new evidence that a revision was necessary.
The Justice Department said it is reviewing Gee's ruling. Another federal judge has ordered Trump to stop separating families at the border and reunite separated migrant families starting Tuesday, giving Trump few options. Under Trump's "zero tolerance" policy, most people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without permission were jailed, with children sent to separate facilities than their parents, often hundreds or thousands of miles away. When Obama faced a similar influx of migrants from Central America in 2014, he eventually settled on releasing most families together, often on bond or with ankle monitors to assure they returned to court. "Sifting through the government's false narrative, the court clearly found that the Flores settlement has never resulted in the separation of families," said Peter Schey, a lead counsel on the original Flores lawsuit. "President Trump needs to take responsibility for his own misguided policies." Peter Weber
On Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters that HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement is still holding nearly 3,000 children separated from their parents, including about 100 younger than age 5, and is working very hard to comply with a federal court order to reunite those children with their parents by July 26, or July 10 for the under-5 children. Previously, HHS said it had 2,047 separated children in custody, of 2,300 split from their parents by Customs and Border Patrol. It now appears HHS and the Department of Homeland Security don't actually know the locations of all migrant parents and their separated children, as they claimed.
Lisa Desjardins summarized Azar's statements on Thursday's PBS NewsHour, then turned to the 1,000 pages of documentation released as part of the lawsuit from 17 states and the District of Columbia seeking to scrap President Trump's "zero tolerance" border policy and blanket incarceration of asylum seekers. We "have some very gripping and, frankly, difficult-to-read personal testimonies," Desjardins said, reading part of the story from a woman named Olivia Caceras, whose 14-month-old child was returned to her after 85 days.
The child "continued to cry when we got home and would hold on to my leg and and would not let me go," Caceras testified. "When I took off his clothes he was full of dirt and lice. It seemed like they had not bathed him the 85 days he was away from us." NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff was aghast. "Eighty-five days without bathing?" she asked. "This is her accusation," Desjardins said, and while the government won't comment on the allegations, there is an HHS shelter for children at the location the mother named. Desjardins also touched on some of the repeated allegations of guards using racial slurs, insults, gratuitous cruelty, and other verbal abuse on detainees, cautioning that these testimonies were put forth by critics of Trump's policies. Watch her report below. Peter Weber
The Trump administration is reportedly crafting proposals that would make it extremely difficult for migrants from Latin America to seek asylum in the U.S., but in the meantime, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has found creative ways to keep asylum seekers locked up and separated from their children. On Wednesday, Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch, a lawyer representing a Honduran woman who has already passed the first, credible-fear stage of her asylum claim process, told NPR on Wednesday that her client is still being held apart from her kids, in apparent violation of orders from federal judges.
"Lincoln-Goldfinch says she and other immigration attorneys believe this is ICE's new policy to deny bonds or set them so high, in excess of $10,000, they're out of reach for immigrants who arrive broke," NPR's John Burnett said. "She thinks it's part of the government's campaign to stop what it calls the catch and release of unauthorized immigrants." ICE denied targeting asylum seekers or setting bonds punitively, but the numbers suggest otherwise. In his ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington, D.C., said ICE has to follow its own directives to parole, or release, asylum seekers who pass the credible-fear hurdle. In five ICE districts, President Trump's ICE has been paroling essentially zero of those asylum seekers, versus 90 percent under former President Barack Obama. You can listen to Burnett's full report below. Peter Weber
On Tuesday night, a federal judge in San Diego ordered the Trump administration to immediately cease separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border and reunite the families it has already separated within 30 days, or 14 days if the detained child is under 5. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, a George W. Bush appointee, allowed migrant parents to be separated from their children if the parent is found to be unfit or asks to be separated, but he also ordered the federal government to facilitate phone contact between parents and children within 10 days. President Trump signed an order last week to stop separating families, but Sabraw sided with the ACLU against the Trump Justice Department in issuing his nationwide injunction, saying Trump's executive order included "subjective" and narrow standards for child-parent separation.
Under Trump's "zero tolerance border policy," more than 2,500 children were separated from their parents, and just over 2,000 remain apart in detention centers or with foster families. "Measures were not in place to provide for communication between governmental agencies responsible for detaining parents and those responsible for housing children, or to provide for ready communication between separated parents and children," Sabraw wrote. "There was no reunification plan in place, and families have been separated for months." Juan Sanchez, the CEO of Southwest Key Programs, which runs the nation's largest shelters for migrant children, tells The Associated Press that reuniting children with their parents "could take days. ... Or it could take a month, two months, six, or even nine. I just don't know." Peter Weber
Migrant children are required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in detention centers, 'out of respect' for America
On Saturday night, the Trump administration released a plan to reunite the more than 2,000 children separated from their parents under President Trump's "zero tolerance" border policy, but immigrant advocates and shelter operators say that will be no easy feat. The children, some barely old enough to speak, are spread around the U.S. in groups as small as 10, "in Michigan and Maryland, in foster homes in California and shelters in Virginia, in cold, institutional settings with adults who are not permitted to touch them or with foster parents who do not speak Spanish but who hug them when they cry," The Washington Post reports. Already, "the children have been through hell," the Post says:
And now they live and wait in unfamiliar places: big American suburban houses where no one speaks their language; a locked shelter on a dusty road where they spend little time outside; a converted Walmart where each morning they are required to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, in English, to the country that holds them apart from their parents. Why must they say those words, some of the children ask at the shelter in Brownsville, on the Mexican border in Texas? "We tell them, 'It's out of respect,'" said one employee. [The Washington Post]
The toll-free Office of Refugee Resettlement hotline migrant parents are being told to call to locate their children is jammed and uninformative, and "U.S. authorities are compiling mug shots of the children in detention" to help connect parents with kids, the Post says. "Immigration lawyers who have seen the pictures say some of them show children in tears."
The children are fed and offered activities, including arts-and-crafts classes and rudimentary "Know Your Rights" presentations delivered by outsider lawyers, the Post says. "Some kids engage. Some remain silent. Some have not spoken for weeks." You can read more about how these children are living at The Washington Post. Peter Weber