Things That Matter

More Migrant Children Were Separated From Their Families Than The US Government Admitted To

The Trump administration likely separated more children from their families than the original 2,737 than the government previously acknowledged. According to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), thousands more migrant children were separated from their parents than originally stated. While the exact numbers are still uncertain, the original count from last year did not include the thousands more who officials say may have been separated from their families starting in 2017. As of now, the government does not know if these families have been reunified.

It’s likely impossible to see the full scope of how many migrant kids the Trump administration has taken away from their parents.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which runs the government shelters for unaccompanied migrant children, saw a “steep increase” in the number of separated children in 2017. Even before The Trump administration announced their “zero tolerance” policy at the border, “HHS faced significant challenges identifying which children in its care had been separated by” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Amid fears of widespread loss or trafficking of immigrant children, the report’s evidence suggests most separated children (like children who arrive unaccompanied without parents) were placed with close relatives within the US. This startling report is the first U.S official acknowledgment that the Trump administration was using family separation as a tool to stop illegal immigration almost a year before it became actual policy.

According to the report, the spike in young children resulted in a shortage of beds for children in the agency’s care.

“More children over a longer period of time were separated by immigration authorities and were referred to HHS for care than is commonly discussed in the public debate,” Ann Maxwell, Assistant Inspector General for Evaluation and Inspections, told CNN. “How many more children were separated is unknown.”

There were some clues that this practice was being conducted prior to 2017. Then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly told CNN that the Trump administration conducted a “pilot program” from July 2017 to October 2017 to test the “zero tolerance” policy in El Paso.

Allegedly, there haven’t been efforts made by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to find the exact number of children separated by DHS.

According to Reuters, the practice of separating minors from adults has been standard practice “for more than a decade.” From October 2016 through February 2018, before the ‘zero tolerance’ was put in place, almost 1,800 immigrant families were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The ORR has stated that the agency “has only limited resources,” and tracking previous DHS separations would deter them from their main focus of caring for children under government custody. They now have changed its tracking procedures to better flag and account for all children at intake.

While the “zero tolerance” policy came to an end last June, the report shows that children were still being separated. One hundred eighteen children were separated between July 1 and Nov. 7, 2018. Eighty-two of the children are under the age of 13 and 27 of them are under the age of 5. The DHS provided the ORR with limited information about the reasons for these separations.

HHS has now reunited nearly all of the 2,737 children with parents or released them to relatives living in the US. The prior separated children were all released before “zero tolerance.”

Last year, Customs and Border Protection apprehended about 50,000 unaccompanied children during the fiscal year which was up from 41,435 in 2017. Prior to the “zero tolerance” policy, children were separated from parents if they had a criminal history.

Lee Gelernt, the ACLU attorney who successfully led the court challenge that ended the Trump administration’s separation policy, said in a statement the he will return to court to take up the findings raised in the report.

“This policy was a cruel disaster from the start. This report reaffirms that the government never had a clear picture of how many children it ripped from their parents. We will be back in court over this latest revelation.”


READ: Here’s What We Know So Far About The New Refugee Caravan That Just Left Honduras

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Nearly 9,000 Unaccompanied Child Migrants Have Been Expelled From the U.S. Under Trump’s COVID-19 Restrictions

Things That Matter

Nearly 9,000 Unaccompanied Child Migrants Have Been Expelled From the U.S. Under Trump’s COVID-19 Restrictions

On Friday, previously undisclosed court documents revealed that almost 9,000 unaccompanied migrant children seeking refuge were denied access to the U.S. and subsequently expelled from U.S. soil. None of these children were given a chance in court.

According to reporting done by CBS News, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials have “suspended humanitarian protections” for most migrants crossing the border, on the grounds that “public health law overrides asylum, immigration and anti-trafficking safeguards” in the era of COVID-19.

CBS news made the shocking discovery when investigating the problematic and increased practice of holding and detaining minors in unregulated, privately contracted hotel rooms.

The government is arguing that the practice is keeping the American public safe from possibly COVID-19 exposure from unauthorized migrants.

“What we’re trying to do…is remove all individuals, regardless of whether they’re children — minors — or they’re adults,” Customs and Border Patrol official Mark Morgan said in an August media briefing.

He continued: “We’re trying to remove [the migrants] as fast as we can, to not put them in our congregate settings, to not put them into our system, to not have them remain in the United States for a long period of time, therefore increasing the exposure risk of everybody they come in contact with.”

via Getty Images

But critics are claiming that the Trump Administration is using COVID-19 as an excuse to unlawfully expel as many migrants as possible–regardless of their age.

On Friday, federal Judge Dolly M. Gee ordered the administration to put an end to the practice of detaining children in hotel rooms, saying that hotels do not “adequately account for the vulnerability of unaccompanied minors in detention”. She asked the government to put an end to the practice by September 15th.

It is in the court documents regarding the above case that 8,800 expelled migrant children number was revealed.

“The numbers are stunning,” said executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, Lindsay Toczylowski, to CBS News. “…To find out that our government has literally taken children who are seeking protection and sent them back to the very places they fled in such high numbers really took my breath away.”

via Getty Images

US Border Patrol Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz has defended the unsafe hotel detainment and speedy expulsion of migrant children, saying that stopping the practice would increase risk of exposure to health and customs officials alike.

But even if the practice comes to an end, the staggering number of unaccompanied migrant and refugee children left to their own devices is sitting heavy on the soul of advocates and activists.

“It’s just completely contrary, not only to all child protection norms and standards, but also just completely contrary to our values as a nation around protecting the most vulnerable,” said vice president for international programs at Kids in Need of Defense Lisa Frydman to CNN. “Because we are just wholesale shipping them out without making sure that it’s safe for them to go.”

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Court Orders ICE To Release Children In Their Custody As COVID-19 Tears Through Detention Centers

Things That Matter

Court Orders ICE To Release Children In Their Custody As COVID-19 Tears Through Detention Centers

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

COVID-19 is spiking across the U.S. with 32 states watching as new cases of the virus continue to climb day after day. California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida are among states that have set daily new infection records. With this backdrop, a federal judge has ruled that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) must release children, with their parents, by July 17.

A judge ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release children in detention by a certain date.

U.S. Judge Dolly Gee ordered ICE to act quickly in response to the rampant COVID-19 spread in detention centers to protect the health of migrants. Judge Gee is giving ICE until July 17 to comply and release all children that have been in the agency’s custody.

U.S. Judge Gee ruled that the threat of the pandemic is great where the children are being held.

“Given the severity of the outbreak in the counties in which FRCs are located and the Independent Monitor and Dr. Wise’s observations of non-compliance or spotty compliance with masking and social distancing rules, renewed and more vigorous efforts must be undertaken to transfer (children) residing at the FRCs to non-congregate settings,” Judge Gee wrote in her order.

Concerned politicians and public figures are celebrating the judge’s order.

The order is aimed specifically at the Family Residential Centers (FRCs) and Office of Refugee Resettlement camps across the country. The virus has been running rampant in detention centers and prisons and, according to the judge, unsurprisingly the virus has made it to the FRCs.

She continued: “The FRCs are ‘on fire’ and there is no more time for half measures.”

National leaders are calling on ICE to follow the ruling by a federal judge.

The judge’s order is aimed at the three FRCs in the U.S. Two are in Texas and one is in Pennsylvania. Unaccompanied minors in various shelters are also included in the order.

“Although progress has been made, the Court is not surprised that [COVID-19] has arrived at both the [Family Residential Centers] and [Office of Refugee Resettlement] facilities, as health professionals have warned all along,” Judge Gee wrote.

This story is developing and we will update as new information arises.

READ: After COVID-19 Shut Down Flights, A Man Sailed Across The Atlantic Ocean All So That He Could See His Dad

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