ACLU Says Trump is Still Separating Families Despite Court Order

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) accused the Trump administration of continuing to “systematically” separate migrant children from their parents despite a federal court ruling that ordered an end to the process, according to court documents.

In a federal lawsuit filed in San Diego on July 30, the ACLU said that more than 900 parents and children have been separated while in US custody, contradicting the court order from US District Judge Dana M. Sabraw that ordered the government to reunite more than 2,700 children with their parents in June 2018. The organization is asking the federal judiciary to stop the Trump administration from continuing to separate families, including children away from parents.

“The government is systematically separating large numbers of families based on minor criminal history, highly dubious allegations of unfitness, and errors in identifying bona fide parent-child relationships,” the lawsuit filed by the organization in California reads.

Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and the lead attorney in the lawsuit said it’s “shocking” the administration continues to separate families.

“It is shocking that the Trump administration continues to take babies from their parents. Over 900 more families join the thousands of others previously torn apart by this cruel and illegal policy,” Gelernt said in a statement. “The administration must not be allowed to circumvent the court order over infractions like minor traffic violations.”

Sabraw’s court order instructed the Trump administration that all migrant families who were separated should be reunited, with the exception of parents who have criminal histories or a contagious disease. The ACLU’s 218-page court filing states that the administration is abusing this exception — the families the ACLU represents were separated from their children due to “minor crimes or questionable allegations of parental unfitness.” One of the minor crimes stated by the plaintiff's occurred over 20 years ago and resulted in three days in jail. “Dozens of parents have been separated due to traffic violations, DUI offenses, drug possession, and fraud or forgery offenses,” the lawsuit stated. “In many cases it is unclear whether the parent was even convicted for the relevant offense, or merely charged.”

In one example cited by the ACLU, a father was caring for his one-year-old child in a Department of Homeland Security facility that housed other sick children. The father did what he could to care for the child and asked the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) officials “to take the infant to the hospital when she was ill and [by] giving her medicine and Gatorade” while in custody.

“But a [Customs and Border Patrol] officer took the baby from the father on the grounds that the father was neglectful in allowing the baby to get extra rest and waiting to change the diaper when she was awake, which is a choice that numerous parents of infants would likely make under the circumstances,” the lawsuit read.

Another father was reportedly separated from his three daughters “due to his HIV diagnosis, with no allegations of criminality or unfitness.”

“To date, and despite the requests of Plaintiffs and legal services providers, Defendants have not explained why an HIV diagnosis compels separation,” the lawsuit read. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said in a written statement to the House Oversight and Reform Committee earlier this month that families are usually kept together unless the child is endangered .

“CBP may also separate an alien child from an individual purporting to be a parent or legal guardian in certain circumstances, such as where CBP is unable to confirm that the adult is actually the parent or legal guardian, or if the child’s safety is at risk. However, outside of these circumstances, CBP generally keeps family units together in its short-term holding facilities,” the statement read.

In a court filing from April, US officials said it may take up to two years to reunite over 2,000 migrant children who were separated from their families at the US-Mexico border. A report from the US Inspector General from January also discovered that thousands of other families may have been separated since 2017. “There was no effort underway to identify those children,” Ann Maxwell, assistant inspector general for the Office of Evaluation and Inspections, previously told CNN. Maxwell also noted at the time that her office and DHS have “faced significant challenges” identifying the number of migrant children who were separated from their parents.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.