LOS ANGELES - The Trump administration deliberately separated thousands of migrant child from their parents on the southern border during the spring of 2018. This was an aggressive effort to discourage family crossings, which caused lasting trauma.
It is becoming increasingly clear that many U.S. citizens children have also been separated from their parents as a result of the so-called "zero tolerance" policy. Migrant parents are being criminally prosecuted, and even jailed, for crossing the border illegally.
Lawyers and immigrants' advocates working with the US government to locate the families claim that hundreds, and perhaps as many as 1000, of the children born in the United States to immigrant parents were taken away from them.
Many of the U.S. born children have been placed in foster care and are still waiting to be reunited. They were separated from their parents nearly five years ago.
Paige Chan is the executive director of Together and Free. She has worked with the federal task force tasked with tracking down separated families. The U.S. Government is just beginning to count the number of U.S. Citizens who have been through this unimaginable experience.
Approximately 5,500 children born abroad were known to have already been separated from parents as a result of the policy. Separations usually last a few weeks but can sometimes be years.
These revelations are the first to confirm that U.S. born children traveling with their migrant parents also fell under the policy of separation, which was made official in April 2018, after being tested in El Paso in the previous year.
Legal analysts have said that the children, as U.S. Citizens, did not have any rights which would have prevented their parents from being jailed. It may even have been a disadvantage to them: their status as U.S. citizens placed them automatically under the supervision of state child welfare officials, complicating attempts to track them down and reconnect them with their parents.
Children sent to foster care by state systems did not have the same system. While children born abroad were moved to federal refugee resettlement shelters, they were entered in federal databases, and subsequently allowed to call their parents. State family courts were allowed to make their own decisions about how to deal with the cases, based on a variety of criteria.
Deportation of parents made the situation even worse.
Theoretically a state dependency would decide whether it was in the child's best interest to be reunited a parent even if that parent had been removed or faced imminent removal. This is according to Carlos Holguin, an attorney who has represented thousands migrant children held in federal custody.
In the event that a judge decides against returning the child to the parent, and there is no U.S. relative available, Mr. Holguin explained that the child could be placed into foster care until the child reaches the age of 18.
The majority of children were born to immigrants in the United States who returned to their native countries after returning to the United States. This was in response to a deteriorating economy in Central America and Mexico and an escalating violence by gangs.
Parents of American citizens do not have the right to stay in the United States. However, their children can apply for a greencard after they turn 21.
It will take the government months to review additional files in order to identify separated families and children, and then to try and determine where they are located within the United States and abroad. This is according to several immigrant advocacy groups who have worked with the interagency Task Force, led by Homeland Security to track these cases.
Angelo Fernandez confirmed that an undetermined number of U.S. citizens children were caught in the border separations. He said the taskforce was 'combing records' to find them.
Leecia Welch is the deputy litigation director of Children's Rights. She litigates cases that involve children at the border.
She said: 'When it seems like things can't get worse, you learn more about the horrifying policy'.
She said there are no records of separated children sent to foster care in Arizona or New Mexico.
The policy of family separation affected children of all ages and nationalities, including hundreds of under-5-year-olds. At the time, the Trump administration claimed that the policy was intended to discourage parents from taking their children on dangerous journeys to the border.
Officials said that removing children from parents in jail is standard procedure. In other situations, children are often removed from U.S. citizens' parents, such as when women give birth in prison or when there is parental abuse or negligence.
Images and audio of children who were traumatized by being torn away from their parents led to outrage in the United States and around the world. The policy was then rescinded.
In June 2018, a federal judge in California ordered that the government reunite separated parents with their children. This was in response to an American Civil Liberties Union class-action suit against the separation policy. The federal authorities helped facilitate reunions between parents and their children while they were still in custody. Many of the parents were deported.
Around 900 parents and children who were deported have returned to the United States. They have been granted a temporary legal status in the country until a permanent settlement can be reached.
A.C.L.U. argues that the reunited families should be offered a path to permanent status in the United States as compensation for the damage caused by separations. The A.C.L.U. argues that families who have been reunited should be given a permanent visa to the United States as compensation for the harm caused by separation.
Lee Gelernt who is the leader of the civil rights group's court case, stated in court last week that the discussions with the government are'moving rapidly', suggesting that an agreement may be imminent.
The advocates for immigrants were shocked to learn that some children who had U.S. Citizenship had been separated from parents. They asked that these children be included in the lawsuit class action, so that they could receive the same services and remedies from the government.
Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney with Public Counsel (a public interest law firm) who represented separated families in another lawsuit, said: "This is the unfinished work of redressing cruel policy which devastated families and traumatized the children."
Rosenbaum said that a group of families, including children who are citizens, fell through the cracks. These parents and their children suffered the same harm.
Separate settlement discussions had included for a while also discussions about monetary compensations for migrant family members. Conservative lawmakers criticized the Biden administration in 2021 for reports that it was considering paying up to $450,000 per person affected by this policy. They said that those who entered the country illegally shouldn't be entitled to such a large settlement. President Biden denied such a sum and the government suspended negotiations on damages.
A.C.L.U. and other groups, as well as private lawyers, help many families to do so. As well as private lawyers and other groups.
Vilma Carillo, who had been separated from her 11-year-old American daughter Yeisvi at the Arizona border, recalled how immigration officials in the Georgia detention center where she was held called mother after mother to help them reunite with their children. She was not paged.
Carrillo claimed that she was instead returned to custody, and told later that her child was placed in foster care, because it was an American.
Immigration lawyers reported that foreign-born children are being returned to their parents more quickly because they're being held in government shelters, and can be quickly transported to their parent's location without having to go through state bureaucracies or foster care systems.
After a legal aid group sued on behalf of Ms. Carrillo who was detained for six months by immigration officials while Yeisvi was being fostered, she was reunited her daughter. Both are living in the United States.