As members of the “caravan’ traveling from South America cross the border into the United States, immigration officials separate out children from adults in suspected trafficking cases. Objecting to the policy, attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU,) are asking a federal judge to place an injunction on the policy and allow detention of parents and children together as well as ordering a prohibition on splitting up families when no legal reason exists to do so.
The policy, which Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed in an address to the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, is a change from long-standing approaches in processing families crossing the border.
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” he said at the investigators’ 2018 spring conference. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over the border.”
Among the skeptics of Sessions’ point of view are attorneys working with the ACLU. The group has filed suit in San Diego that seeks to stop the practice by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.) The case is currently under review with U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw.
Contended in the suit is that ICE agents split “parents from children without a compelling reason, such as doubts about whether the adult is the actual parent of the child or whether the parent is otherwise legally unfit to have custody.”
According to The Los Angeles Times, Judge Sabraw’s current leanings go toward granting the injunction and certifying all these cases as a class action encompassing children and parents taken into custody, “most of whom are seeking asylum.”
An official count of minors currently in custody and who are separated from their parents isn’t available, but is estimated in the neighborhood of 700.
ACLU attorneys are asking that parents and children remain detained together.
On the other hand, Department of Justice attorneys say no legal right for families to be detained together exists under the law. What’s more, separations often come as the result of separate lawful and legally authorized decisions, including an agent’s decision to take a mother into custody. The scenario leaves minor children in the situation as unaccompanied, under a technical reading of the law.
Under previous methods of operation by border agents, mothers with children seeking asylum would have been released from ICE custody after completing their “credible fear” interviews. Children and minors, according to a Newsweek story reporting on a 1985 class action suit, ordered children and minors be kept in the “least restrictive setting” available. Most of the time, this meant the children would be released from custody along with their mother.
In a statement on the matter, Department of Homeland Security officials put out a statement saying, separations of children from the adults with whom they travel happen “in some instances, such as when parental relationship cannot be confirmed.”