Trump Order: No Reunion of Separated Immigrant Families Without Acceptance of Deportation

Central American asylum seekers walk to a shelter in McAllen, Texas, June 20, 2018 (Veronica G. Cardenas/MySA)

Breaking Donald Trump’s supposed “executive order” ending the separation of immigrant families, the Trump Administration is instructing agents not to permit reunions until parents agree to deportation.

A government form, obtained by NBC News, instructs Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents not to end the separations even as parents await — legally — decisions on asylum, often claimed because of violence in home countries in Central America.

The form instructs the parents to sign next to one of two lines: “I am requesting to reunite with my child(ren) for the purpose of repatriation to my country of citizenship,” or “I am affirmatively, knowingly, and voluntarily requesting to return to my country of citizenship without my minor child(ren) who I understand will remain in the United States to pursue available claims of relief.”

The agents are instructed to read the form in a language the immigrant understands, which usually means Spanish, but it can be hard to find Americans who know the indigenous languages spoken by many migrants.

More than 2,500 children were seized after the Trump Administration’s issuance of the “zero tolerance” policy in April. Two weeks, after Trump made a show of responding to criticism — “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated” — Federal agencies reunited 522 children with parents.

But last week the total of detained children only droped by six to 2,037. The Department of Health and Human Services has not stopped the release of statistics.

Advocates confirmed the implementation of the new order. “We are seeing cases where people who have passed credible fear interviews and have pending asylum claims are being given this form,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Some parents have been deported before any attempt at reunion, further complicating a chaotic process in which poor record-keeping has “lost” many children in the system.

Under asylum law, immigrants must be allowed to make an asylum claim before a judge even if they have been given an order of deportation.

“A child should never be held hostage to force a parent to relinquish their legal right to seek asylum,” summarized Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense.

On June 26, Judge Dana Sabraw of the Federal district court in southern California ruled that the Administration must reunify juveniles with parents within 30 days — 14 if the child is under 5 years of age. However, there is no stipulation that parents must be allowed to remain in the US with their children while they wait for an asylum hearing.

ICE spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea acknowledged the form, insisting that it does not block asylum applications: “Alien parents who are ordered removed can elect to be removed with or without their children. Neither choice has any bearing on the alien’s eligibility to apply for protections available to them under the law.”

Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.

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