Sep­a­ra­tions at U.S. border down; scores still af­fected

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Colleen Long

WASH­ING­TON — The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has sep­a­rated 81 mi­grant chil­dren from their fam­i­lies at the U.S.Mex­ico border since the June ex­ec­u­tive or­der that stopped the gen­eral prac­tice amid a crack­down on il­le­gal cross­ings, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment data ob­tained by the As­so­ci­ated Press.

De­spite the or­der and a fed­eral judge’s later rul­ing, im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials are al­lowed to sep­a­rate a child from a par­ent in cer­tain cases — se­ri­ous crim­i­nal charges against a par­ent, con­cerns over the health and wel­fare of a child or med­i­cal con­cerns. Those caveats were in place be­fore the zero tol­er­ance pol­icy that prompted the ear­lier sep­a­ra­tions at the border.

The gov­ern­ment de­cides whether a child fits into the ar­eas of con­cern, wor­ry­ing ad­vo­cates of the fam­i­lies and im­mi­grant rights groups that are afraid par­ents are be­ing falsely la­beled as crim­i­nals.

From June 21, the day af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s or­der, through Tues­day,

76 adults were sep­a­rated from the chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to the data. Of those, 51 were crim­i­nally pros­e­cuted — 31 with crim­i­nal his­to­ries and 20 for other, un­spec­i­fied rea­sons, ac­cord­ing to the data. Nine were hos­pi­tal­ized, 10 had gang af­fil­i­a­tions and four had ex­tra­ditable war­rants, ac­cord­ing to the im­mi­gra­tion data. Two were sep­a­rated be­cause of prior im­mi­gra­tion vi­o­la­tions and or­ders of re­moval, ac­cord­ing to the data.

“The wel­fare of chil­dren in our cus­tody is para­mount,” said Katie Wald­man, a spokes­woman for the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, which over­sees U.S. im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment. “As we have al­ready said — and the num­bers show: Sep­a­ra­tions are rare. While there was a brief in­crease dur­ing zero tol­er­ance as more adults were pros­e­cuted, the num­bers have re­turned to their prior lev­els.”

At its height over the sum­mer, more than 2,400 chil­dren were sep­a­rated. The prac­tice sparked global out­rage from politi­cians, hu­man­i­tar­i­ans and re­li­gious groups who called it cruel and cal­lous. Im­ages of weep­ing chil­dren and an­guished, con­fused par­ents were splashed across news­pa­pers and tele­vi­sion.

A fed­eral judge hear­ing a law­suit brought by a mother who had been sep­a­rated from her child barred fur­ther sep­a­ra­tions and or­dered the gov­ern­ment to re­unite the fam­i­lies.

But the judge, Dana Sabraw, left the caveats in place and gave the op­tion to chal­lenge fur­ther sep­a­ra­tions on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis. Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union at­tor­ney Lee Gel­ernt, who sued on be­half of the mother, said he hoped the judge would or­der the gov­ern­ment to alert them to any new sep­a­ra­tions, be­cause right now the at­tor­neys don’t know about them and there­fore can’t chal­lenge them.

“We are very con­cerned the gov­ern­ment may be sep­a­rat­ing fam­i­lies based on vague al­le­ga­tions of crim­i­nal his­tory,” Gel­ernt said.

Ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment data, from April 19 through Sept. 30, 170 fam­ily units were sep­a­rated be­cause they were found to not be re­lated — that in­cluded 197 adults and 139 mi­nors. That could also in­clude grand­par­ents or other rel­a­tives if there was no proof of re­la­tion­ship. Many peo­ple flee­ing poverty or vi­o­lence leave their homes in a rush and don’t have birth cer­tifi­cates or for­mal doc­u­ments with them.

Other sep­a­ra­tions were be­cause the chil­dren were not mi­nors, the data showed.

Dur­ing the bud­get year 2017, which be­gan in Oc­to­ber 2016 and ended in Septem­ber 2017, 1,065 fam­ily units were sep­a­rated, which usu­ally means a child and a par­ent — 46 due to fraud and 1,019 due to med­i­cal or se­cu­rity con­cerns, ac­cord­ing to data.

Wald­man said the data showed “un­equiv­o­cally that smug­glers, hu­man traf­fick­ers, and ne­far­i­ous ac­tors are at­tempt­ing to use hun­dreds of chil­dren to ex­ploit our im­mi­gra­tion laws in hopes of gain­ing en­try to the United States.”

Thou­sands of mi­grants have come up from Cen­tral Amer­ica in re­cent weeks as part of car­a­vans. Trump, a Repub­li­can, used his na­tional se­cu­rity pow­ers to put in place reg­u­la­tions that de­nied asy­lum to any­one caught cross­ing il­le­gally, but a judge has halted that change as a law­suit pro­gresses.

The zero tol­er­ance pol­icy over the sum­mer was meant in part to de­ter fam­i­lies from il­le­gally cross­ing the border. Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say the large in­crease in the num­ber of Cen­tral Amer­i­can fam­i­lies com­ing be­tween ports of en­try has vastly strained the sys­tem.

But the pol­icy — and what it would mean for par­ents — caught some fed­eral agen­cies off guard. There was no sys­tem in place to track par­ents along with their chil­dren, in part be­cause af­ter 72 hours chil­dren are turned over to a dif­fer­ent agency, the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, which has been tasked with car­ing for them.

An Oc­to­ber re­port by Home­land Se­cu­rity’s watch­dog found im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials were not pre­pared to man­age the con­se­quences of the pol­icy. The re­sult­ing con­fu­sion along the border led to mis­in­for­ma­tion among sep­a­rated par­ents who did not know why they had been taken from their chil­dren or how to reach them, longer de­ten­tion for chil­dren at border fa­cil­i­ties meant for short-term stays and dif­fi­culty in iden­ti­fy­ing and re­unit­ing fam­i­lies.

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