ACLU says Trump admin has separated over 900 migrant children in past year

The Trump administration has separated more than 900 children from their families despite a judge ordering the administration to stop separations more than a year ago, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleged in a court filing Tuesday.

The ACLU asked a federal judge to block the administration from continuing with any separations, which they said defied the court order.

“The government is systematically separating large numbers of families based on minor criminal history, highly dubious allegations of unfitness, and errors in identifying bona fide parent-child relationships,” the ACLU said in a filing to a federal district court in San Diego.

The Trump administration has said officials will separate children only if the adults pose a danger based on their criminal record or suspected abuse.{mosads}

However, the filing alleges that the government’s position is that it may legally separate children from adults on the basis of any criminal history, no matter how minor.

The Hill has reached out to the Department of Homeland Security for comment about the court filing.

Lee Gelernt, lead attorney in the family separation lawsuit and deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, in a statement called the revelations “shocking.” 

“It is shocking that the Trump administration continues to take babies from their parents. Over 900 more families join the thousands of others previously torn apart by this cruel and illegal policy. The administration must not be allowed to circumvent the court order over infractions like minor traffic violations,” Gelernt said.

According to the filing, dozens of parents have been separated because of traffic violations, DUI offenses, drug possession, and fraud or forgery offenses. In many cases, the ACLU said, “it is unclear whether the parent was even convicted for the relevant offense, or merely charged.”

In one example, according to the ACLU, a parent was separated because of a conviction for “malicious destruction of property value $5,” for which the father received a six-day jail sentence with six months of probation.

The filing also alleged that separations are happening because of unsubstantiated allegations of abuse or neglect. In one example, a father was reportedly separated from his three young daughters because the father has HIV.

In another instance cited by the ACLU, a migrant father lost his daughter when a Border Patrol agent called him a bad father for allegedly failing to change is daughter’s diaper.

The ACLU urged the judge to clarify his previous ruling on when such separations were warranted. The government’s own statistics that were provided to the ACLU showed that 185 children — more than 20 percent — were younger than 5 years old. Thirteen of these children were younger than a year old at the time they were separated from their parents, the ACLU said. 

The filing alleges that from June 28, 2018, through June 29, 2019, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents separated 911 children — including numerous babies and toddlers — based on criminal history as well as “defendants’ unilateral, unsupported determination that the parent is unfit or a danger” or a mistake about the identity of the adult as the child’s parent.

The filing was part of an ongoing lawsuit over the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which resulted in about 2,700 children being separated from their parents over a six-week period from May to June 20 last year. 

The policy called for the criminal prosecution of all adult migrants who were detained after trying to cross the country’s southern border. Any children brought across the border were separated from their parents, deemed to be “unaccompanied,” and detained by the Department of Health and Human Services in separate facilities sometimes hundreds of miles from their parents.

The policy created a massive outcry, and the backlash forced the administration to walk it back just three months later. 

In his executive order ending the policy, President Trump said it is the “policy of this Administration to maintain family unity” unless detaining a child with its parents “would pose a risk to the child’s welfare.” 

A ruling by a federal judge in San Diego forced the administration to reunite many of the children who were separated under the policy. 

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