Washington, DC – The Trump administration’s family separation policies embodied a shocking level of cruelty and callousness. Remember that the administration was prepared to rip as many as 26,000 children away from their parents, with no plans for reunification, and they were aware of the emotional and mental health traumas children separated from their parents would suffer.
While a huge public backlash forced the administration to publicly walk back the policies, the administration has since continued to explore ways to revive and reconstitute family separations.
Now it’s officially back – quietly being implemented if not publicly announced.
In a story for NBC News, “Family separation is back for migrants at the U.S./Mexican border, say advocates,” Julia Ainsley reports that the administration has started to force migrant parents into making a “Sophie’s Choice” of choosing separation from their children or having their kids indefinitely detained with them in jail-like conditions – where COVID-19 infection risks are high:
Several immigrant rights organizations are outraged by a new choice U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is presenting to migrant parents: Separate from your child or stay together in detention indefinitely.
Starting on Thursday, the groups claim, ICE began distributing a form in all three of its family detention centers that would allow parents to apply for their minor children to be released. The form, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, states that it is in compliance with the Flores court agreement, which prohibits ICE from holding minors for more than 20 days. The released children are placed with family members, sponsors or placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.
…The current, ‘voluntary’ concept was previously termed ‘binary choice,’ but has never been fully implemented. Now, lawyers representing clients in ICE family detention say parents may be persuaded to separate from their children if they are worried about exposing them to COVID-19 in detention.
The timing is no coincidence, said Shayln Fluharty, director of the Dilley Pro Bono Project, which provides legal services for families in detention in Dilley, Texas. A federal judge recently told ICE it was not in compliance with the Flores agreement, and the forms, said Fluharty, are a way for ICE to show that these parents have chosen to keep their children in detention.
According to Pili Tobar, Deputy Director of America’s Voice:
Trump’s family separation policy remains one of the worst things done by this or any other modern U.S. administration. While the American public is focused on testing, tracing, and treatment for coronavirus, Stephen Miller and his allies are quietly reconstituting the policy and taking advantage of the pandemic to implement a ‘Sophie’s choice’ for immigrant parents: stay in detention with your child indefinitely and risk getting infected, or separate from your child in order to get them out of detention. Family separation was a level of cruelty and callousness that shocked America’s conscience and sadly, as we’ve learned, it never fully went away. This is another example of the Trump administration using this crisis to enact their anti-immigrant agenda and cause more long term damage to immigrants across the country.
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