The Government’s Rush to Deport Reunited Families

The family separation crisis took a turn yesterday, when the Trump administration revealed in a federal court filing its intention to deport families immediately upon reunifying them. The ACLU had sought a court order blocking the deportation of any parent with a final order of removal until one week after notification that they have been reunited with their children. 

This waiting period is crucial to ensure that parents have an opportunity to make an informed decision about whether to fight their own removal cases, leave their children (who may have their own asylum claims) behind in the United States, or make some other decision. In short, families will be making life-altering decisions after months of traumatic separation — and the fact that the government is trying to shortchange them a matter of days to do so is galling. 

On Tuesday in court, we argued that given reports of a chaotic reunification process — not to mention the trauma caused by prolonged involuntary separation — families require a waiting period of seven days after notification of reunion, so that they can meet with attorneys and be fully apprised of their rights before any deportations occur. A Justice Department attorney pushed back, saying “The government takes issue with the assertion that there is a mess on the ground. We have many reasons to be proud of this effort." 

Well, here’s what we take issue with: 

  • A mother being told that signing a government form would lead her to be reunified with her 16-year-old son, and then finding out she had just allegedly signed away her rights to see him again. She could not read the form herself because her Spanish literacy is minimal. 
  • ICE officers telling a mother who stated her wish to seek asylum that “applying for asylum would take six to eight months and that she would not see her daughter during that time period,” even though she has a right to be reunified under the court order.
  • Parents being taken to rooms with 30-50 other people and being forced to fill out forms with only a few minutes to decide whether or not to leave their children behind in the United States.
  • A father who was told that the only way for his daughter, who faced mortal danger in Guatemala, to remain in the United States was for him to sign “this document.” He had no opportunity to review the document or ask questions about it. He had no idea that by signing it, he agreed to voluntary departure and relinquished his right to be reunited with her. The entire interaction lasted one minute. 

These are only some of the stories emerging from on the ground where advocates and attorneys are diligently trying to reach hundreds of parents at risk of deportation — 900 by the government’s latest tally.

The emotional and logistical obstacles to providing meaningful counsel in even just seven days are significant. Parents are seeing their children for the first time in weeks or even months. For many, they are understandably too traumatized to receive even basic legal advice.

Manoj Govindaiah, the director of Family Detention Services at the immigrant services group RAICES, provided this snapshot of his experience counseling families who had been reunified and detained at Karnes detention center just days ago:

The experience of separation has also inculcated families with skepticism and distrust to a level that far exceeds any that I have previously experienced with our clients. Many fathers needed extended coaxing in order to believe that I was not there to take their children away from them. One father asked me multiple times to prove who I was (when I introduced myself as a lawyer from RAICES), and showing him my bar card, my business card, and my driver’s license was insufficient. It was only when I went through our database and listed the names of all the RAICES staff and volunteers that I believe he had previously met with that he appeared to believe I was who I said I was. At the conclusion of our meeting, when I asked him why he was distrustful of me at first, he said something along the lines of since he and his son entered this country, they have been lied to, that he doesn’t know who is government and who isn’t, and now that he has his son back, he will not let his son go anywhere without him.

Mr. Govindaiah also shared that “trauma has made it difficult for parents to even comprehend or focus on what lawyers advise,” sharing how one father responded to every statement he made by asking whether he could stay with his son.

One father could not comprehend anything I was saying. Any statement I made would elicit a response of “but my son and I can stay together, right?” When we discussed his legal options, his repeated response was “but as long as I’m with my son, I’ll be ok. I’ll be with my son that whole time, right?” The meeting ended without any meaningful information being developed from the client or advice being provided because the father could not move past his fear of re-separation.

Even if attorneys are able to counsel families despite the enormous and understandable emotional strain they are under, there are logistical impediments that make these cases unusually complex.

Most families who come to family detention centers have their proceedings conducted in that facility, which makes it relatively simple for their lawyers to track their cases. By contrast, the government has frequently moved separated families from facility to facility. Parents often arrive without paperwork and don’t know the status of their immigration cases. What’s more, their children’s immigration cases have been proceeding on an entirely separate track. 

The situation is only about to get more dire.

The government’s latest filing indicated that within the next few days, hundreds of parents with removal orders may be reunited with their children at the Karnes detention center in South Texas.

This facility has never had to absorb such an influx of complicated cases. One attorney who has spent considerable time counseling detaining families at Karnes described an observation trip just last week saying, “I saw a level of disarray that I have not seen since my initial days at the facility when it first opened.”

The chaos playing out on the ground stems directly from the government’s choice to enact a policy of separating families with no thought or plan as to how parents and children would eventually be reunited.

The Trump administration took children, including babies, from their parents and did not return them for weeks and often many months. In fact, some children will remain separated after the court’s deadline because the government failed to track their parents, and may in fact have deported them already.

The government simply does not have ground to stand on when it argues that it cannot wait a mere seven days to remove families who are reunited, so that they can be informed of their rights before making life-altering decisions. 

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Anonymous

That's not how this works. If you are in this country you are supposed to be bound by our laws. That includes the laws that protect rights. If we allow the federal government to pick and choose what laws they enforce or ignore concerning this group of people then we are implying that they can do that for any group in this country.
What happens to you if they decide not to enforce the right to due process anymore? What good would your proof of citizenship be if there were no way to prove it?
Our current president has made public statements saying he would do exactly that.

Anonymous

deport them, if they have a removal order they have had their day in court and lost, deport them immediately upon reunification.

Su Hall

This is the most absurd thing I have seen! Taking children away from their parents is just not right! These people are NOT criminals and it is NOT against the law to come here asking for asylum!
The fact that these are not citizens should NOT matter here, unless it has been through the courts and the laws on this country's books have changed through proper legal channels!
tRumpf has made this country a wasteland of ingrates and a$$holes!
This administration is horrible to this country and for this country! I cannot wait for election day!

Kathy Nance

This is disgraceful. The psychological toll is immeasurable. Has anyone figured out how much all of this ill thought out separation policy is costing the US? At between $319 to somewhere in the $700 per day per diem that we are paying for private incarceration of these refugees and these children, how much has this separation policy cost? AND who is getting rich? Follow the money. It's always about that.

Anonymous

The US government should not deemed parents as unfit to get their child or children back. They are ruining these children lives. They are not US citizens, so stop with power struggles and put these families together asap. This is so embarassing for our country. Is our trying to create slavery or genocide. This is horrible. Don't let President Trump destroy anymore lives.

Anonymous

Lay the blame on the illegals aliens and their government. I would love all that money that being spent on illegals aliens go back to Americans to better their lives. It’s cost more to take care of them. In Salt Lake City UT a ILLEGAL ALIEN IS COSTING THE TAXPAYERS ONE MILLION DOLLARS AND GOING UP FOR HIS MEDICAL CARE BECAUSE OF CANCER ALL BECAUSE HE IN JAIL. I would like to have that go money help support the elderly and children who needed. And what about American Citizens who lost their children permanently because they were killed by illegals aliens don’t they have the right to have their children with them?

Anonymous

The only thing that characterizes the Trump regime more than corruption is incompetence. Thank goodness for the ACLU.

Anonymous

Allowing the parents one week to make life altering decisions is the humane thing to do

Anonymous

Thank you ACLU! Your work is so important. Keep it up!!

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