Things That Matter

Migrant Families Separated At The US Border Are Suing The Government Over Their Inhumane Separation Policy

The ACLU has recently filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of five migrant families and their children, who the lawsuit says were “torn from their parents’ arms with little or no warning.” The suit alleges that the U.S. government “cruelly and inhumanely separated” children from their parents in Arizona and along the U.S. border, and by doing so, is culpable in the trauma inflicted on the families. The lawsuit details the unimaginable trauma that these families during several months in federal custody in 2018. 

Karina, who was just 13 years old at the time, was forcibly separated from her mother on Christmas Day. Karina was so devastated, she was handcuffed as a means to control her while her mother was taken away. They didn’t see each other again for 16 months. They’re telling their stories in the hope that it will help all families who were forcibly separated to gain reparations from the government. 

Seven-year-old Diana fell asleep in a detention center and woke up to find her father, Jorge, was taken away without a chance to say goodbye.

Credit: @NickMiroff / Twitter

Diana and Jorge fled Honduras after their family had been “subjected to death threats, intimidation, and violence,” according to the suit. Last June, the two arrived on U.S. soil and immediately turned themselves in to CBP and asked for asylum. They were immediately taken to a concrete cell that was “filthy and smelled of urine,” court documents read. They were given Mylar emergency blankets and no other mats, pillows or blankets. Children slept on benches while parents slept on the concrete floor. 

Around midnight, a CBP officer took Jorge out of the cell. Jorge assumed it was to ask him some questions and that he’d return to his daughter. The officer put cuffs on his wrists and ankles and escorted him to a detention facility, with no chance to say goodbye. Jorge begged for answers on what would happen to his daughter, but the officer ignored him. When they finally reunited, Diana didn’t hug her father back. She had become attached to her social worker. Months later, Diana is suffering from severe separation anxiety. The two are still pursuing asylum.

Beatriz was three years old when she saw ICE “violently remove a child from her mother,” court documents read. Then ICE took her away from her father.

Credit: @MelissaGomez004 / Twitter

When a mother refused to give up her child, four CBP officers tried to forcibly take the child from her. One officer repeatedly “struck the woman with his hands,” the suit states. Beatriz clung tighter to her father, who knew he would face violence if he didn’t let her go. Her father was deported without her. Beatriz would be taken thousands of miles away to New York and be assigned to a caretaker who would physically abuse her while she was in federal custody. When Beatriz was deported five months after her father, he noticed a scar on her back and bruises on her legs. She said a woman hit her with the “hard part of a belt,” according to the suit. The two are currently living in Santa Isabel, Guatemala, and struggling. Beatriz almost entirely lost her ability to speak Mam, the Mayan language her family speaks. After reunification, the suit states Beatriz was “was uncomfortable being around
her parents after they were reunited, almost as if they were strangers to her.”

Andrés, then 6 years old, kicked and screamed as he was pulled from the arms of his father, Jacinto.

Credit: @JoyceWhiteVance / Twitter

Jacinto tried to tell the guards that Andrés had a heart murmur but the suit alleges the guards were “uninterested.” The suit alleges that one officer told Jacinto that his son now “belonged to Trump.” When Jacinto wept in his cell, without his son, another officer mocked him for crying “like a little girl,” court documents state. Jacinto was deported while Andrés remained in U.S. custody. They wouldn’t see each other again for another ten months.  Meanwhile, Andrés was put into foster care where his caretakers asked him to call them “Mom” and “Dad.” When they were reunited over a year later, things were different. Andrés cries more often, has a shorter temper and struggles to be apart from Jacinto. The two are currently seeking asylum.

The suit alleges that family separation would invariably produce trauma and that the U.S. did not offer any mental health services to those families.

Credit: @peterdaou / Twitter

The suit is alleging that the trauma was intentional as a means to deter Central American families from even seeking asylum. According to the suit, U.S. officials who ordered that the family separation policy goes into effect “destroyed families
to inflict severe pain on Central American immigrants, hoping that this would cause them
to abandon their asylum cases and deter other Central Americans from seeking asylum or
other immigration relief in the United States.” One parent traumatized by the family separation policy died by suicide. 

If the families win the lawsuit, reparations could be made to all families affected by family separation.

Credit: @fams2gether / Twitter

The suit isn’t just trying to share traumatic stories. It’s trying to illustrate how a single event has broken families, even after reunification. Nearly all families have been reunited, but the symptoms of PTSD live on. Parents are scarred from being forcibly deprived of protecting their children from their own PTSD and continue to suffer from “fear and anxiety, trouble sleeping,
nightmares, painful headaches, and dizzy spells, and other symptoms,” according to the suit.

Winning would be a huge win to Latinos, who the suit alleges were racially targeted by President Trump. More than 95 percent of the class action plaintiffs are from Central America.

READ: ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Got Real Emotional In Episode About Undocumented Immigrants And Family Separation

Forced DNA Testing Could Be Another Injustice That Migrants Have To Endure Under New Trump Rule

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Forced DNA Testing Could Be Another Injustice That Migrants Have To Endure Under New Trump Rule

PBS Newshour / YouTube

As the number of migrants at the southern border has surged in the past several months, the Trump administration has turned to increasingly draconian measures as a form of deterrence. While the separation of children from their parents and housing of migrants in overcrowded and ill-equipped holding facilities have rightfully made front-page headlines, the administration’s latest effort—to conduct Rapid DNA testing on migrant families at the border—has flown under the radar. However, this new tactic presents serious privacy concerns about the collection of biometric information on one of the most vulnerable populations in the U.S. today—and raises questions of where this practice could lead.

Trump wants to expand the current DNA testing program far behind what most people would say is ethical.

The Trump administration wants to enable Customs and Border Protection officials to collect DNA samples from undocumented immigrants in its custody.

The move will likely inspire the anger of civil liberties and immigrant advocates, who argue that the government should not draw sensitive personal information from people without being tied to a specific crime.

The official noted an ICE pilot program at the southwest border earlier this year, in which the agency took voluntary DNA tests of those they suspected of fraudulently claiming to be families. “ICE has identified dozens of cases in which children had no familial relation to the adults accompanying them. In the first operation — Operation Double Helix 1.0 — 16 out of 84 family units were identified as fraudulent based on negative DNA results. And in the second — Operation Double Helix 2.0 — 79 of 522 family units were identified as fraudulent based on negative DNA results, to date,” the official said.

With Trump, it seems the cruelty is the point so where is all of this coming from?

In May 2019, CNN reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was launching a pilot program to conduct Rapid DNA testing on families at the U.S.-Mexico border. The purpose of the pilot program was to identify and prosecute individuals who were not related through a biological parent-child relationship. The pilot program was confirmed as a joint operation between ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at two locations at the border. The government contracted with ANDE, a Massachusetts-based Rapid DNA testing company, to conduct the Rapid DNA testing for the pilot program.

Later that month, ICE released a Request for Proposal seeking a contractor to expand the Rapid DNA testing program for ten months at seven locations at the U.S.-Mexico border. In mid-June, Bode Cellmark Forensics, Inc. was awarded the Rapid DNA testing expansion contract for $5.2 million.

The government started with voluntary DNA testing over a year ago.

Federal officials at the border have been performing voluntary DNA tests on migrants for more than a year in an attempt to reunited separated children with their families. But a new draft policy reveals the Trump administration wants to “expand” DNA testing by letting CBP “extract genetic material from undocumented immigrants in its custody.”

Proposed regulations are not immediately enacted and require a 60-day comment period.

Administration officials cite a statute — the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005 — that allows federal agencies to collect DNA from individuals in their custody, including those who are not American. But previous DOJ regulations exempted agencies under the Department of Homeland Security — including CBP and ICE — from conducting such collection in certain circumstances.

In 2010, then–DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano narrowed the exemption, saying people who were not detained on criminal charges and those who were awaiting deportation proceedings would not have their DNA collected.

The current draft proposal would cut the exception all together — opening it up to include people who are awaiting deportation and those who are not charged with a crime, such as undocumented immigrants, to the collection.

Civil liberties groups have long challenged the expansion of DNA collection from citizens and noncitizens alike.

”DNA collection programs allow the government to obtain sensitive and private information on a person without any precursor level of suspicion and without showing that the data collected is tied to a specific crime,” wrote the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a statement on federal DNA collection. Federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI generally take DNA samples from arrestees.

This Innocent Man’s Life Is In Ruins After Police Jailed Him For Smuggling Meth, Turns Out It Was Just Honey

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This Innocent Man’s Life Is In Ruins After Police Jailed Him For Smuggling Meth, Turns Out It Was Just Honey

All too often travel can be a very stressful experience. There’s the whole act of flying itself which for many is downright terrifying. Then you’re either rushing and still end up late or having to waste a couple of hours in an airport trying not to blow all your cash on an $8 bottle of water. Factor in traffic to and from the airport and having to pack and wait in line after line – yea, traveling can kind of suck sometimes.

But for one Maryland man, his last trip was at a whole other level of stressful and it turned into three months of absolute chaos. 

You see, on his return trip from Jamaica he was accused of flying with liquid meth.

Leon Haughton, who has lived in Maryland for 10 years, had gone back to visit his family in Jamaica over Christmas.

The 45-year-old had bought three bottles of honey from his favorite roadside stand to bring back with him.

His long ordeal started on December 29 when he landed back at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and customs agents had a dog sniff his bags. He assumed the dogs had sniffed the KFC chicken he had in his bag but was surprised when agents seized the three bottles of honey he uses to sweeten his tea.

The agents told him they suspected him of transporting liquid methamphetamine.

‘I’m 100 percent sure I don’t have drugs. I only have honey,’ Haughton recalls telling the agents, according to the Washington Post.  He fainted after they placed him in detention and he was taken to jail. 

While the authorities waited for test results, Haughton languished in jail for 82 days.

Haughton and his attorney Terry Morris believe he was stereotyped because of his race. They said he was questioned while in custody about a ‘big Jamaican gang and drug dealing conspiracy’.

The laboratory results from Maryland took more than two weeks to arrive and they came back negative.  Authorities then sent the bottles to a second laboratory in Georgia after the first was judged to be insufficiently equipped to analyze the liquids.

Although he had a green card granting him legal residence in the U.S., Haughton’s arrest set in motion a detention process with immigration. Since Houghton is not a U.S. citizen, the arrest put him at risk of being deported – not to mention the stress his family endured as they waited for his release.

The tests in Georgia, meanwhile, finally confirmed that Haughton was indeed transporting honey. The charges were dropped and he was freed on March 21 after 82 days in custody.

Call me naive but I didn’t even know liquid meth was a thing.

According to officials, liquid meth is a fairly new form of methamphetamine. Meth will be liquified and placed into familiar bottles (usually just for easier transport) and then the liquid will be boiled away leaving pure meth for the user.

For Houghton, this whole ordeal has cost him his livelihood.

Unable to work for three months and far from his six children, Haughton lost his two jobs as a cleaner and construction worker.

‘They messed up my life,’ he said. ‘I want the world to know that the system is not right. If I didn’t have strong people around me, they would probably leave me in jail. You’re lost in the system.’

‘I’m scared to even travel right now. You’re innocent, and you can end up in jail.’

OK, so the cops totally got this wrong but there actually have been cases of people smuggling in liquid meth.

Just this past May, a Border Patrol agent and his canine partner assigned to the Sierra Blanca Border Patrol Station seized approximately 118 pounds of liquid methamphetamine, worth almost four million dollars. The drugs were loaded into plastic bottles and transported over the border.

Meanwhile in Australia, smugglers are trying to sneak in liquid meth inside of snow globes.

I mean we obviously don’t condone trafficking in drugs, but I will say that’s a very creative method.

But many on Twitter were shocked at the apparent mismanagement of the entire situation.

Eventually, the charges were dropped, though officials have yet to apologize to Houghton for leaving his life in ruins. He has since lost his job as a cleaner and watched his credit score dramatically decrease due to the bills that piled up. Friends have even cut off contact.

“My kids are stressed out, my mom. Everybody was stressed out over everything. It’s a lot of stuff I’m going through,” he said. “Nobody contacted me. Nobody tell me sorry, nobody do nothing.”

Customs and Border Protection officials simply told NBC Washington that they are “reviewing procedures” while providing no information. Houghton still has not been issued an apology despite his story prompting massive outrage on social media.

With one Twitter user, @boerneman, saying “It should have never taken 82 days to do the second test to confirm what the substance was. He should file a federal civil rights lawsuit against all involved. This is a prime example of  incompetence and mismanagement.”

“He lost his 2 jobs. There’s No compensation for losing his jobs, jailed for 82 days … for NOTHING. The 3 bottles were indeed HONEY never Liquid Meth. The man got his credit messed up. It Never takes 82 freaking days to get Honey tested. The miscarriage of Justice against POC,” said another user.