Court filing says Trump administration gives families only one choice for reuniting: deportation

Immigration Law


Demonstrators at the Families Belong Together rally in Chicago protesting the plight of migrant children separated from their families at the border. Marie Kanger Born /

The American Civil Liberties Union says that President Donald Trump’s administration is telling immigrant families that they can be reunited only if they choose to be deported together, NBC, Yahoo News and Slate reported this week.

That contention came in a court filing in the ACLU’s class action over family separations, Ms. L v. ICE, which is pending in San Diego federal court. In the filing, the ACLU says Immigration and Customs Enforcement is giving parents a form specifically aimed at class members in Ms. L. It gives those parents two choices: choose to be deported with their children or without.

The form says it’s for parents who have “administratively final orders of removal,” meaning that the parent has either been subjected to expedited deportation—a process in which no court case is required—or a final deportation order from an immigration judge. However, ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt told Yahoo News that “it misleadingly suggests parents must waive their right to contest removal if they want to get their child back.”

That’s concerning to advocates for immigrants, who say the vast majority of the families separated by the federal government are asylum-seekers. Under federal and international law, immigrants have a right to present asylum claims, even if they’ve been ordered deported. Gelernt says the forms are being given to immigrants who have passed the first step, an interview that determines whether they have a “credible fear” or returning to their home countries. Thus, advocates are worried that this form is an attempt to prevent them from receiving asylum.

Diane Eikenberry of the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago told Yahoo the form is “a manifestation of the complete disregard that ICE has for anyone’s ability to make a claim for protection, and not least children’s ability to do that.”

Jennifer Elzea, a spokeswoman for ICE, told NBC that the form is only for people who have already been ordered removed, and doesn’t have any bearing on those people’s ability to apply for asylum or other legal protections. The form doesn’t mention that, and it’s unclear whether immigrants unfamiliar with the U.S. immigration legal system would be aware of that.

The filing came Tuesday, July 3, halfway to the two-week deadline the Ms. L court imposed for the government to reunite some of the separated families. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ruled June 26 that children under age 5 must be reunited with their parents within 14 days. That deadline is July 10. Older children must be reunited with parents within 30 days.

The family separations have become a major public issue since they ramped up in late spring. Under public pressure even from members of his own party, President Donald Trump signed an executive order June 20 requiring federal agencies to end the policy. However, the order asks federal agencies to incarcerate immigrant families together, which has not satisfied many opponents and which has already been ruled out by a different federal court in Flores v. Sessions. The government asked the court to permit the practice anyway in June. The request is pending, but the ABA Journal’s review of the docket showed opposition from at least two outside groups as of June 29.


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