Evidence suggests that the Trump administration has returned to the widely criticized practice of separating migrant children from their parents.
Propublica reports that immigration lawyers providing assistance to children in government custody in New York have uncovered at least 16 new separation cases. They said that border agents justified the separation with "vague or unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing or minor violations against the parents."
In early May of this year, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s "zero tolerance" immigration policy, which allows for the criminal prosecution of people who cross the United States-Mexico border with their children. It resulted in nearly 2,000 children being separated from their parents or guardians between April 19 and May 31. After much outrage and backlash, President Donald Trump ended the policy on June 20 when he signed an executive order nullifying the practice. Shortly thereafter, federal judge Dana M. Sabraw ordered the government to reunite the separated families.
"This was supposed to be a policy that ended," said Jodi Ziesemer, a supervising attorney at Catholic Charities, the organization that discovered these new instances of family separation. Officials knew something was amiss when "children were put into temporary foster care and shelters with little or no indication that they arrived at the border with their parents."
According to Propublica, Judge Sabraw’s injunction crucially "exempted cases in which the safety of the child was at risk" and "imposed no standards or oversight over those decisions." And now, the administration appears to be using that as a loophole, declaring immigrant parents "unsafe" as a means to separate families.
"If the authorities have even the most specious evidence that a parent was a gang member, or had some kind of blemish on their record, anything they can come up with to say that the separation is for the health and welfare of the child, then they’ll separate them," Neha Desai, a senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law, told Propublica.
A senior agent at U.S. Customs and Border Protection admitted to Propublica that family separations are indeed still happening, but did not say how many families have been newly affected. Catholic Charities and lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) told the news outlet that the Department of Justice said it has "no obligation" to report new cases of family separation because they didn’t take place under the zero tolerance policy.
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt told Propublica that the fight is not over: “If the government is still secretly separating children, and is doing so based on flimsy excuses, that would be patently unconstitutional and we will be back in court.”