DHS returns child 11 weeks after claiming father was a gang member

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) returned a 4-year-old Salvadoran boy to his father on Tuesday, 11 weeks after the agency alleged that the parent was a gang member.

The father and son were separated at the border and sent to two separate facilities in the U.S., ProPublica reports, after DHS claimed it had evidence that the father was in a gang.

The agency asserted that it acted for the child's safety.

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A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson did not provide ProPublica or an immigration court with evidence that the father, identified only as Julio in the story, was a gang member.

Ultimately, an immigration judge released the father from a detention facility in San Antonio on bond so he could pursue an asylum claim. The father said he fled El Salvador and is seeking refuge in America to escape gang violence.

He was reunited with his son in Austin, Texas, where the boy's grandmother lives.

A DHS spokesperson did not disclose to ProPublica why the agency changed its position and allowed the father and son to be reunited.

“When CBP encounters a minor child, our first priority is to ensure the safety and security of that child," a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told The Hill in a statement. "This administration continues to comply with the law and separates parents or legal guardians from their children only when required for the welfare of the child in accordance with the Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).

"These instances have long been understood, are not new, and have nothing to do with Zero Tolerance policy or this Administration. The [Ms. L vs. ICE] court ruling did not prevent these separations, in fact it explicitly allows DHS to continue with this practice outlined in law for the safety and security of the child,” the spokesperson added.

Anthony Enriquez, director of the unaccompanied minors program at Catholic Charities, told ProPublica the child's return suggests the agency had no legitimate reasons for separating the family in the first place.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem lawmaker says Electoral College was 'conceived' as way to perpetuate slavery Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals to visit White House on Monday Transportation Dept requests formal audit of Boeing 737 Max certification MORE’s “zero tolerance” policy calling for the criminal prosecution of adult migrants caught crossing the border illegally led to families being separated. The administration ended the policy after a public backlash. But immigrant rights groups and other advocates claim separations are still taking place under claims that children are in danger and need to be separated.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration that ultimately resulted in an injunction putting separations on hold expect where a child’s safety could be at risk.

“We would have expected the government to cease all separations except where there was hard evidence that a parent genuinely poses a risk to a child,” Lee Gelernt, an attorney who led the ACLU’s lawsuit against the zero tolerance policy, told ProPublica. “But that does not appear to be the standard the government is using, in flagrant violation of the injunction.”

Updated at 2:13 p.m.