UN to US: halt migrant child separation policy

In a press briefing on June 5, Ravina Shamdasani, representative for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the US to halt its recently mandated practice of detaining undocumented migrants and separating them from their children. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month announced a "zero tolerance" policy on illegal border crossings, with prosecution of all apprehended. "The practice of separating families amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child," Shamdasani said. "Children should never be detained for reasons related to their own or their parents' migration status. Detention is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation."

Shamdasani notes that the US is the only country in the world not to have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. "We encourage it to accede to the Convention and to fully respect the rights of all children," she stated. (Jurist, NYT)

While the government has not disclosed how many children have been separated from their parents as a result of the new policy, the Department of Health and Human Services said May 29 that it had 10,773 migrant children in its custody, up from 8,886 on April 29. A Customs and Border Protection official testified at a Senate committee hearing the previous  week that 638 adults were referred for prosecution between May 6 and May 19 under the new zero-tolerance effort and that they brought 658 children with them. Parents who arrive with children are placed in federal detention facilities, while their children are sent to HHS shelters. Those shelters are now at 95% capacity, and HHS is preparing to add potentially thousands of new bed spaces in the coming weeks. HHS also is exploring the possibility of housing children on military bases. (WaPo, May 29)

Sessions: stop granting asylum to victims of gang violence

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a decision June 11 calling for immigration judges to adopt a narrower interpretation of "membership in a particular social group" when deciding whether to grant asylum to undocumented immigrants. This interpretation would deny most asylum seekers who are victims of domestic abuse and gang violence.

The Immigration and Nationality Act gives the Attorney General the authority \to grant asylum when an immigrant faces persecution in their home country on the basis of "race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." In his opinion, Sessions recognized that the Board of Immigration Appeals had granted asylum to groups such as "married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship" in the past, but Sessions overruled such decisions determining that the Board had applied the incorrect standard in review of such cases. (Jurist)

UN rights chief condemns US migrant child separation policy

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein in a June 18 statement criticized the US policy of separating immigrant children from their parents. The commissioner cited the American Association of Pediatrics, which called the policy "government-sanctioned child abuse." (Jurist)

States file suit against Trump 'zero tolerance' policy

A coalition of 17 states and the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its policy to separate immigrant children from their families and refusal to allow asylum applicants entry along Southwestern border ports. (Jurist)

Federal judge orders halt to child separation policy

A federal judge in California ordered a halt to most family separations at the US border, and the reunification of all families that have been separated, in the first major rebuke to the Trump administration during ongoing furor over family separations at the border. "Plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits, irreparable harm, and that the balance of equities and the public interest weigh in their favor, thus warranting issuance of a preliminary injunction," US District Court Judge Dana Sabraw wrote. (CNN)

Guatemalan migrant mother sues Trump admin

A Guatemalan woman is suing the Trump administration, claiming that her son was taken from her at the border while she was seeking asylum. The woman, Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia, claims in the lawsuit that she was allowed to speak to her son once on the phone and that officials would not tell her where he was being held, beyond that he was in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement in Phoenix. Mejia-Mejia is asking for the government to reunite her with her son and for a court to rule that the government's actions were wrong. (The Hill)

57 migrant children reunited with parents under court order

In a July 12 press release, the US government said it has reunited all eligible immigrant children under five years of age with their parents.

The government acted in response to the June 26 preliminary injunction from the US District Court for the Southern District of California mandating that children under the age of five be reunited with their parents within 14 days and all children within 30 days. The announcement exceeded by two days the deadline set by Judge Dana Sabraw.

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement: "[W]e could not be more happy for [the reunited] families. But make no mistake about it: the government missed the deadline even for these 57 children. Accordingly, by the end of the day we will decide what remedies to recommend to the court for the non-compliance."

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), an additional 46 children were acknowledged by the court to be ineligible for reunification or determined by HHS, Homeland Security, and the Justice Department to be ineligible under court-approved criteria. Of the 46 not reunited, said HHS, "22 children have been found ineligible due to safety concerns posed by the adults in question," and "24 children are not currently eligible for reunification due to circumstances of the adults in question."

Looming next is the 30 day deadline to reunite the thousands of minor children over five with their parents. (Jurist)

Judge orders admin to halt deportations of reunited families

A federal judge on July 16 ordered the Trump administration to temporarily cease deporting families who have been reunited after the administration dropped its policy of separating undocumented children from their parents.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought a request (PDF) before the US District Court for the Southern District of California asking that families be given one week after being reunited with their separated children before they can be deported. The ACLU reasoned that the extra seven days would give families time to make “fully informed and voluntary decisions about whether to leave their children behind in the United States” if they wanted the children pursue asylum claims separate from their own. (Jurist)

Family separation may have hit thousands more migrant children

The Trump administration most likely separated thousands more children from their parents at the Southern border than was previously believed, according to a report by the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General. The federal government has reported that nearly 3,000 children were forcibly separated from their parents under last year's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, under which nearly all adults entering the country illegally were prosecuted, and any children accompanying them were put into shelters or foster care. But even before the administration officially unveiled the zero-tolerance policy in the spring of 2018, staff at the  HHS noted a "sharp increase" in the number of children separated from a parent or guardian, according to the report.

As of December, HHS had identified 2,737 children who were separated from their parents under the policy and required to be reunified by a federal court order issued in June 2018.
But that number does not represent the full scope of family separations. Thousands of children may have been separated during an influx that began in 2017, before the accounting required by the court, the report said. (NYT)