At this very instant, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement is depriving an 18-month-old child of his mother, separating the two in immigration detention. Mirian, a 29-year-old mother from Honduras, is currently detained in T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas, while her toddler is kept in a facility in San Antonio, some 120 miles away.
Their ordeal has already lasted two months.
They are just one of hundreds of families who are subjected to ICE’s brutal tactic of forcibly separating immigrant parents and children and on whose behalf the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has brought a national class-action lawsuit. On April 20th, The New York Times reported new data, estimating that more than 700 children have been taken from their parents since October, including more than 100 children under the age of 4.
Fleeing government violence in Honduras, Mirian came to the U.S. with her young son on Feb. 20, 2018, presenting herself to immigration authorities and asking for asylum. During her interview, Mirian gave the immigration officers her Honduran ID card and several identification documents for her child, including his birth certificate and his hospital birth record, both of which list her as his mother.
However, once the interview was over, the officers said that they were going to take her son away from her. She repeatedly asked why they couldn’t stay together, but she was not given a reason. The officers then made her carry her 18-month-old child outside where a government car was waiting. As she placed him in the car seat, he began to cry. Without giving her a moment to comfort him or say goodbye, the officers shut the door and drove away.
Mirian’s story comes to light on the heels of another highly publicized separation at the hands of the Trump administration. For four months, ICE forcibly separated a Congolese mother, Ms. L, and her seven-year-old child in facilities 2,000 miles apart. They were only reunited following public outcry and the ACLU’s lawsuit on their behalf, which has since expanded into the national class action.
And in fact, since their reunion, the Trump administration has made a coordinated effort to characterize what happened as an isolated incident. In recent weeks, leadership from the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and ICE all appeared before Congress and characterized family separation as a rare occurrence.
CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan called family separation a “very rare occurrence,” which is “based on admitted or clear fraud from CBP perspective.”
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen admitted that the reunion of the Congolese mother and her child “took too long,” but she maintained that the agencies’ standard was “in every case, keep that family together.” She further maintained that when immigration authorities separate parents and children, it’s done because “the law tells them to” and it’s in the “interest of the child.”
ICE Executive Associate Director Matthew T. Albence, who oversees enforcement and removal operations, assured Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard that ICE’s “concern always is the health and well-being of that child.”
This defense falls apart very quickly when looking at the facts, the administration’s statements, and the Constitution.
Mirian provided identification documents but still was forced to watch a car drive away with her only child with no idea where he was going or how he would be treated. ICE made both Ms. L and her seven-year-old suffer needlessly for four months without making any effort to verify the mother-daughter relationship. Only after the ACLU filed its lawsuit did the agency administer a DNA test, which of course proved their relationship.
The administration continues to deny that family separation is an official “policy.” However, reports rose several months ago that the Trump administration was considering separating border-crossing parents from their children. This was confirmed in March by then-DHS Secretary John Kelly who said it would help deter Central Americans from coming to the United States. Whether or not it is a “policy” the fact remains that in practice it is happening to hundreds of families.
These families have the constitutional right to due process regardless of immigration status. They are being forcibly separated without hearings or for a compelling government interest. The consequences will be serious.
Experts know that the trauma that these children are experiencing is incalculable. The American Academy of Pediatrics denounced the administration’s plans saying that “the psychological distress, anxiety, and depression associated with separation from a parent would follow the children well after the immediate period of separation—even after the eventual reunification with a parent or other family.”
No matter how the Trump administration attempts to spin its actions, the suffering it is causing is intentional and illegal, and the administration must be held accountable.
Amrit Cheng is the Communications Strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).