Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Office of Refugee Resettlement

Still waiting on families to be reunited

Horrible story remains horrible.

The clock is ticking on a court-ordered Tuesday deadline for the federal government to reunite migrant parents with kids under 5 who were taken from them at the border. With a mere four days left, government attorneys have asked for more time — and some migrant parents say they have been given no information about how these court-ordered reunifications will take place.

At a status conference in San Diego Friday, government attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw to grant them reprieve from what they characterized as an over-ambitious deadline to bring together about 100 toddlers with parents who may be scattered across the country or the world — either held in immigration detention centers, released into the interior United States or, in some cases, already deported to their home countries.

Sarah Fabian, a lawyer for the Department of Justice, told the judge that the government has been able to match up 83 of those toddlers to parents, but has not yet found parental ties for 19 of them. Of the parents the government has identified so far, 46 remain in immigration detention centers. Those reunifications should be completed before the Tuesday deadline, Fabian said.

But the process is likely to take longer for the dozens of parents who are not in government custody. Nineteen parents of the youngest group of children have already been deported, 19 have been released from immigration custody into the United States, and two have been found to be unfit based on past criminal history. Fabian cautioned that those numbers were approximate and could be “in flux” over the coming days.

The judge — who had in a previous order criticized the government because “migrant children [were] not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property” — did not immediately lay out a longer time frame for reunifications in those more logistically challenging cases. Sabraw instead directed the government to provide more information over the weekend and set a Monday morning hearing to reconsider the deadlines.

“It may well be that once the plaintiffs know what the reason is and what groups [of parents] it applies to, they’ll agree that a more relaxed date can apply to a certain group,” Sabraw said at the conclusion of a lengthy conference. “But no one can make any informed decision, including the court, without additional information.”

While the judge did not revise the Tuesday deadline, it remains unlikely that all “tender age” children will be reunited with their parents by that original date. The odds are particularly steep in cases where those parents have already been deported, as the government argued Thursday. Lee Gelernt, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer arguing the case on behalf of separated parents, said countless private lawyers and other organizations have offered up their services to help speed the reunification process.

You would think that reuniting children with their parents would be the top priority. That would require people who are not evil being in charge of that.

The Trump administration is making some remarkable arguments in the on-going child/family separation cases, making it seem like they actually want to slow roll their way into making the separations permanent. As Alice Ollstein explains, the government says it needs more time to determine whether the “putative parents” (i.e., people saying they want their kids back) are in fact real parents (people with a true custodial relationship to the children in question) and further whether are fit parents. In other words, having used the criminal law to meet the very high standard required to separate children from their parents, the government is now arguing that it needs to apply a very high standard to give them back. The government is further arguing that it should not be compelled to reunify families in which parents have already been deported because of the difficulty of doing so.

This is the singular moral issue of our time. We cannot lose focus on it. And we must vote out everyone responsible for putting us here, at the very least.

No indefinite detention of asylum seekers

That title is one of those things I can’t believe I have to write.

A federal district judge has ruled President Donald Trump’s administration’s practice of indefinitely detaining some asylum seekers can’t proceed, dealing a major blow to what immigration attorneys have said is one of the administration’s tools to deter people from seeking safe haven in this country.

The lawsuit was filed in March by the American Civil Liberties Union and named as a defendant the El Paso Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office. Other field offices named in the lawsuit include Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark and Philadelphia. The El Paso office covers West Texas and New Mexico.

The ACLU alleged in the lawsuit that the plaintiffs passed their initial “credible fear” exams – the first step in the asylum process to determine if an applicant has a legitimate case. But despite having sponsors willing to provide housing in the United States, the federal government has continued to hold them instead of granting them parole.

[…]

In his Monday ruling, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg granted a preliminary injunction preventing the federal government from denying parole to any provisional class members that are a party to the lawsuit. The lawsuit defines them as “asylum seekers who traveled to the United States, were found to have a credible fear of persecution, and were referred for immigration proceedings to decide their asylum claims.” The exception applies to people who pose a flight risk or a danger to the community.

A statement from the ACLU is here, and the preliminary injunction orders are here and here. Just as a reminder, these are people who came to official ports of entry to seek asylum, which they have the legal right to do. And while you ponder that, keep in mind that the Trump administration has no clue and no plan for reuniting the children they stole from their parents. Happy Independence Day!

The family separation crisis is far from over

For one thing:

Although the zero-tolerance policy was officially announced last month, it has been in effect, in more limited form, since at least last summer. Several months ago, as cases of family separation started surfacing across the country, immigrant-rights groups began calling for the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.), which is in charge of immigration enforcement and border security, to create procedures for tracking families after they are split up. At the time, D.H.S. said that it would address the problem, but there is no evidence that it actually did so. Erik Hanshew, a federal public defender in El Paso, told me that the problems begin at the moment of arrest. “Our client gets arrested with his or her child out in the field. Sometimes they go together at the initial processing, sometimes they get separated right then and there for separate processing,” he said. “When we ask the Border Patrol agents at detention hearings a few days after physical arrest about the information they’ve obtained in their investigation, they tell us that the only thing they know is that the person arrested was with a kid. They don’t seem to know gender, age, or name.”

Jennifer Podkul, who is the policy director of Kids in Need of Defense, told me that advocates are trying to piece together information about the whereabouts of children based on the federal charging documents used in the parent’s immigration case. “You can try to figure out where and when the child was apprehended based on that,” she said. “But where the child is being held often has nothing to do with where she and her parent were arrested. The kids get moved around to different facilities.”

The federal departments involved in dealing with separated families have institutional agendas that diverge. Immigration and Customs Enforcement—the agency at the D.H.S. that handles immigrant parents—is designed to deport people as rapidly as it can, while O.R.R.—the office within the Department of Health and Human Services (H.H.S.) that assumes custody of the kids—is designed to release children to sponsor or foster families in the U.S. Lately, O.R.R. has been moving more slowly than usual, which has resulted in parents getting deported before their children’s cases are resolved. There’s next to no coördination between D.H.S. and H.H.S. “ice detainees are not allowed to receive calls, so any calls need to be individually arranged,” Michelle Brané, of the Women’s Refugee Commission, told me. “A phone call is not a fix for separation. It is a call, often with a very young child. A call is a Band-Aid.” A number of lawyers that I’ve spoken with described personally pressuring individual deportation officers to delay a parent’s deportation until she can be reunified with her child or, failing that, until children and parents can be deported at roughly the same time.

Remember the fuss a couple of weeks ago over Samantha Bee’s use of the c-word? This was the point she had been making, about children being lost in the system by the federal government.

For another thing:

But like so much else in Trumpland, there is how something appears, and how something actually operates in reality. In the hours between the announcement of the order and its actual release, many hailed the change as an about-face—a stunning and rare pivot for a president who has little capacity to admit error. But now that the executive order is out, what is clear is that this document offers no fix at all. The Trump administration intends to trade the practice of separating children while it prosecutes parents for another kind of horror: locking up parents and children together. And, according to the executive order, this new incarceration of families could well be indefinite.

“This Administration will initiate proceedings to enforce…criminal provisions of the INA until and unless Congress directs otherwise,” the executive order lays out. “It is also the policy of this Administration to maintain family unity, including by detaining families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources.”

[…]

The practice of separating children from their parents is a symptom of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero-tolerance policy” announced this spring. Under Sessions’s new rules, US attorneys now must criminally prosecute every person apprehended while attempting to enter the country between official ports of entry without proper documentation. But because many people come to the United States as families and because there are restrictions on how long children and parents may be held together, the government separated children from their parents, treating separated children as “unaccompanied minors.” The executive order does not affect that zero-tolerance policy at all; those prosecutions will continue.

Parents and babies are still going to be incarcerated while those prosecutions continue; it just appears that now they will be held together. And under the executive order, any public agency, including the Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Defense—which would mean the federal prison system and military bases—must make its facilities available for the incarceration of these families.

What’s more, the executive order announces that the Trump administration intends to petition a court to revisit the landmark 1997 Flores settlement, which set forth minimum conditions for the treatment and detention of migrant children. The centerpiece of Flores requires that children be released from government custody as quickly as possible. Separately, it requires that those who are held have access to education, health care and recreation, and that they not be kept in confinement. The Trump administration wants to dismantle those minimum child-welfare protections so that it can, in the words of the executive order, “detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.”

But, because Flores is still current law, the Department of Homeland Security is still bound by it, and cannot detain children for longer than is absolutely necessary to find a placement for them outside of detention. Therefore, “this Executive Order is a restatement of current policy, which is to prosecute, detain, and quickly deport Central American asylum seekers,” says Kerri Talbot, legislative director for Immigration Hub, a DC-based, pro-immigration umbrella group.

The new executive order is no solution. It’s just another problem, as serious as before. Donald Trump has no idea what he’s doing, but he’s doing it anyway. There’s no cause to celebrate. Don’t let these guys off the hook.

Our typically feckless state leaders

Way to set an example for the rest of us, y’all.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick frequently talk tough about illegal immigration, but they refuse to publicly support the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that’s spurred outrage for ripping thousands of undocumented children out of the arms of their parents.

Neither are they criticizing it.

Texas’ top Republicans are making a calculated decision to hide from the humanitarian crisis, largely taking place on Texas soil, because they are afraid of upsetting their political base.

The governor has tried to say as little as possible about the White House policy, making only one public comment backing Trump’s argument that the children’s and parents’ traumatic experiences can be used as leverage for an immigration overhaul.

“This is horrible and this rips everyone’s hearts apart about what’s going on,” Abbott told a Dallas-area TV station. He added that Trump had offered to “end the ripping apart of these families” if Democrats agree to a new immigration law.

Abbott declined repeated requests for comment from the Houston Chronicle. Instead, his staff forwarded the statement made last weekend to NBC TV. The governor seeks to appear loyal without attracting attention to himself.

“It shouldn’t be a tightrope to do the right thing,” said John Weaver, a longtime campaign strategist from Texas who has consulted for Republicans like George H.W. Bush and now Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “It’s disappointing that we haven’t heard from the governor but not surprising. We’ve gone from Texas having very strong leaders to having leaders who are very calculating.”

[…]

Patrick never brought up the separation policy or the border when he spoke for half an hour at the Texas Republican Party convention in San Antonio on Friday. His office and campaign have not returned repeated calls for comment.

“Dan Patrick’s silence, in the face of such brutality committed on Texas soil, makes him as culpable as the administration. Morally, it’s as though he wrenched the children from their parents with his own hands,” said Mike Collier, a Democratic businessman running against Patrick for lieutenant governor in November.

As the Lone Star Project noted, Abbott has expressed his support for the Trump detention policy previously, before it became untenable for everyone this side of Ken Paxton and Sid Miller to oppose it. I suppose he and Patrick were just taking their time and hoping this would all go away, as befitting their cowardly natures, but their absence was definitely noticed.

“What is happening on the border tonight is an affront to humanity and to all that we as proud Americans hold dear,” state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, told the American-Statesman Tuesday. “We are better than this. To watch our own governor remain silent in the face of this atrocity is an affront to all that we as Texans hold dear. As a member of the Texas Legislature, I am ashamed that my ‘so called’ leader is so controlled by his fealty to the president’s myopic vision of America that he is frightened like a feeble squirrel from taking action. It is time to act. NOW. Governor Abbott. Can you hear me?”

Both of those stories were from yesterday morning. By around lunchtime, Abbott had been forced out of his spider hole to make a few grudging remarks.

Gov. Greg Abbott is asking Texans in Congress to take bipartisan action to address the crisis of thousands of immigrant children being separated from their parents.

“This disgraceful condition must end; and it can only end with action by Congress to reform the broken immigration system,” he wrote in a letter to all members of the Texas delegation, including Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.

Abbott called family separations, which are the result of a Trump administration policy announced earlier this year, “tragic and heartrending.” But he also called the separations the “latest calamity children suffer because of a broken U.S. border” — and urged members to “seize” the opportunity to work across the aisle and finally fix the problem.

“Texans are not fooled by the partisan divide on this issue,” Abbott wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Texas Tribune. “They know that even if all Republicans agree, a bill fixing the problem will not pass without Democrat support in the Senate.”

Naturally, as befitting his craven nature, Abbott hid behind the lie that Trump was forced into the family separation policy and only Democrats could save him, to which Trump himself quickly put the lie with a hasty afternoon executive order, one that has ulterior motives. But as one Democratic Senator pointed out prior to that, it was easily within the power of even one Republican Senator to force the issue. And if Greg Abbott is sincere about wanting to keep families together and make progress on immigration, here’s a bill he could support. Don’t hold your breath would be my advice. Greg Abbott always, without fail, takes the easiest way out. Vox and ThinkProgress have more.

Mayor Turner says “No!” to the child detention warehouse

Damn right.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner called on the owner of a building east of downtown Houston and the nonprofit hoping to operate the former warehouse as a detention center for immigrant children separated from their families at the nation’s southern border to reconsider their plans.

The mayor also said he is in no rush to issue city permits at the site, and called on the state not to issue a childcare license to the 54,000-square-foot facility two blocks north of BBVA Compass Stadium for use by federal contractor Southwest Key Programs.

Turner, flanked by numerous nonprofit, religious and political leaders, said he wanted to show a unified front to protest the “unjust and immoral policy” the Trump administration began enforcing in April, when a “zero tolerance” approach began driving up the number of children removed from their parents upon crossing the border illegally.

[…]

Turner said he respects the work Southwest Key has done in the past, noting that he worked with the group’s leaders during his time in the Texas Legislature, but the mayor said these circumstances are objectionable and proclaimed he will not “be an enabler” in this process.

“I’ve done my best to try to stay clear of the national dialogue on many issues. I’ve done my best to try to focus on the issues that confront the city of Houston, recognizing that we need the partnership of the national — the feds — the state, working with the city,” Turner said. “This one is different. There comes a time when Americans, when Houstonians, when Texans have to say to those higher than ourselves: This is wrong. This is just wrong.”

You know how I feel about this. The city can take all the time it wants, double- and triple-checking on the permit, because Lord knows the state doesn’t give a damn. Everyone on Council should be behind the Mayor on this as well. It shouldn’t be that hard for anyone to do, since even a bunch of Republican members of Congress are not happy with the forced separation of children from their parentsnot that they’ll do anything about it, of course – with the notable exception of that paragon of virtue, Ken Paxton. Just don’t be fooled by Ted Cruz. The Trib and Texas Monthly have more.

UPDATE: The longer version of the story suggests how the city might slow-walk this.

Asked by a reporter if he planned to “slow-walk” the permitting process, Turner smiled. He said city fire inspectors have not visited the property and that health inspectors have yet to grant a food service permit. Code enforcement officials already have granted a certificate of occupancy, affirming that the facility meets the minimum requirements to operate as a “dormitory/shelter,” though Houston Public Works spokeswoman Alanna Reed said the paperwork connected with that application made no mention of Southwest Key, the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement or the plan to house children at the site.

Health department director Stephen Williams said there are “certain deficiencies” at the site that would need to be corrected before a permit is issued. Fire Chief Sam Pena said switching from housing adults to housing children will require a more thorough review than what the city fire marshal’s office conducted when the facility served as a shelter after Harvey.

“If it’s primarily children, having enough people there to ensure proper evacuation, proper access, because you’re dealing with a different type of juvenile person,” Pena said. “We’re going to be meticulous and judicious as far as our inspections, especially for the proposed use of this, but it’s nothing different than what we’d do for any other business.”

These things do take time, you know.

Say “No!” to warehousing “tender age” children

We cannot allow this.

The large vacant warehouse in downtown Houston has housed women and families who were once homeless and adults displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

Until now, however, it has never sheltered small children who are on their own in a strange country, many of them separated from their parents who were jailed after illegally crossing the southern border.

Southwest Key Programs, a Texas nonprofit that has a lucrative contract with the federal government to care for thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children, confirmed Friday it has signed a lease with the owner of the warehouse at 419 Emancipation Ave.

Its application with the state requests a general residential operating license to hold up to 240 children between the ages of “0 to 17.” Several stakeholders who work with immigrant minors said they have been told the facility would largely serve “tender age” children who are younger than 12, as well as pregnant and nursing teenagers.

[…]

Federal officials said Friday about 2,000 children have been separated from their parents between mid-April, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the new zero-tolerance policy, and the end of May.

The sudden surge has overwhelmed the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which now has more than 11,400 children in their care in about 100 shelters across the country that are almost full. The ORR has issued calls to agencies that run such facilities for the government to see if they can increase their capacity and are considering housing children in tent-like structures on military bases, including in Texas.

“They are being required to house increasingly large numbers of very young children … who should have never gone to (the agency) in the first place,” said Jennifer Podkul, director of policy for Kids in Need of Defense, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group that provides services to unaccompanied minors.

Keeping such young children in a residential facility like the one proposed in Houston would represent a sharp shift from previous practice.

“My understanding is that the kids would be sleeping at this facility in Houston, and that’s surprising and would be a different structure than we’ve ever seen before for this type of population,” she said. “This would be the first one.”

Small children and pregnant teenagers are usually placed with foster parents who work with specialized organizations that contract with the federal government to provide such care. The minors spend their nights in a foster home and their days in a licensed facility for children, where they are provided services such as medical and legal screenings.

“Traditionally the government has relied on families and supported homestays for this population because of their special needs,” Podkul said. “Very young children can’t sleep through the night all the time. They have physical limitations because of their size. … I don’t know how you provide for that in such a large facility.”

This so-called “shelter” would be one of these:

In South Texas, pediatricians started sounding the alarm weeks ago as migrant shelters began filling up with younger children separated from their parents after they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

The concerned pediatricians contacted Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and she flew to Texas and visited a shelter for migrant children in the Rio Grande Valley. There, she saw a young girl in tears. “She couldn’t have been more than 2 years old,” Kraft says. “Just crying and pounding and having a huge, huge temper tantrum. This child was just screaming, and nobody could help her. And we know why she was crying. She didn’t have her mother. She didn’t have her parent who could soothe her and take care of her.”

The number of migrant children in U.S. government custody is soaring — partly the result of a policy decision by the Trump administration to separate children from their parents who are being prosecuted for unlawful entry. Hundreds of the children being held in shelters are under age 13.

Medical professionals, members of Congress and religious leaders are calling on the Trump administration to stop separating migrant families. They question whether these shelter facilities are appropriate for younger children.

[…]

Pediatricians and immigrant advocates are warning that separating migrant children from their families can cause “toxic stress” that disrupts a child’s brain development and harms long-term health.

At the facility in South Texas, Kraft says, the staff told her that federal regulations prevented them from touching or holding the child to soothe her.

While shelter managers and other experts say there is no such rule, Kraft says the confusion underscores why these shelters are not the right place for young children — especially kids who have fled dangerous countries and who have just been separated from their parents. “By separating parents and children, we are doing irreparable harm to these children. The long-term concern of what we call toxic stress is that brains are not developed efficiently or effectively,” Kraft says. “And these children go on to have behavior problems, to have long-term medical problems.”

This is cruel and inhumane, and it is being done as a matter of deliberate policy. What kind of people want to separate parents from their children like this? CM Robert Gallegos, in whose district this would be, wrote this on Facebook:

The mayor will host a press conference early next week regarding the federal government’s proposal. While the City was not involved in the decision or notified beforehand, we will advocate for these children and do all we can to ensure they are cared for with compassion and dignity. Children should be with their families, not warehoused in a detention center hundreds of miles away from their parents. The Trump administration’s inhumane policy of separating families is shameful and goes against the very values our nation was founded on.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia released this statement:

This week it was discovered that federal authorities, in conjunction with contracted private partners, have signed a lease to open a baby jail to detain child immigrants just east of downtown Houston. State Senator Sylvia Garcia issued the following statement in reaction:

“Now is the time to gather together to stop this baby jail before a single child seeking refuge is locked up in our city. The Trump administration has made it clear that it will rip children away from their parents despite legal and child development experts telling them that it is unnecessary and known to cause lifelong harm. No law requires this. Humanity demands compassion. We must say as a community with one voice that jailing children away from their parents is wrong, it should not happen anywhere, and we as Houstonians will not allow it to happen here. Not now. Not ever.”

We need to hear from all of our elected officials. This is an abomination, and we cannot let it happen.