Border Report: On Family Separations, Advocates Want to Know 'What the Hell Is Going On'
Border Patrol agents will be given new power to evaluate initial asylum claims, the Trump administration can continue sending asylum seekers to wait in Mexico and more in our biweekly roundup of border news.
A legal challenge in San Diego’s federal courts is seeking to provide the public with a comprehensive look at Trump administration’s family separations at the border.
The Children’s Advocacy Institute of the University of San Diego School of Law jointly filed the lawsuit with the firm Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton LLP. (Disclosure: Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton has represented Voice of San Diego in public records disputes.) They allege several U.S. federal agencies, including the Administration for Children and Families and the Department of Homeland Security, failed or refused to provide documents to a June 2018 Freedom of Information Act request.
“We want to know where they are and what they’re doing with them, what records they have and what their procedures are,” said Robert Fellmeth, the executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Institute. “We need to bring the government into compliance with basic law, basic constitutional and refugee law.”
The Children’s Advocacy Institute submitted three separate but effectively identical records requests to the Administration for Children and Families, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. and Border Protection seeking a breadth of information about people who had been detained along the border between January and June 2018.
The requests seek documents showing the number of adults and minors detained or arrested while trying to enter the United States, and evidence those minors may have been separated from a family member or guardian. They are also seeking copies of policies and procedures that detail the care and treatment of minors who were separated from parents or another accompanying adult. It also asks for information, like language spoken, country of origin, medical conditions and more.
Another case filed last year by the ACLU case, Ms. L v. ICE, sought to force the government to produce the children. At the end of April, the Trump administration asked U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego for two years to identify all the children who had been separated from parents or other adults. Instead, Sabraw gave them six months.
Sabraw had stopped the Trump administration’s practice of separating families in June 2018, giving the administration 30 days to reunite more than 2,000 migrant children in its care. Most of those children have since been reunited, but in January a government watchdog released a report indicating thousands more may still be separated from their parents.
In April, the government said that it could apply a statistical analysis to about 47,000 children who were referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for the minors held in custody and is part of the Administration for Children and Families, The New York Times reported. It could then manually review the records of those children who appeared to have a high chance of being among those separated from their parents. Why would the government impose such an arduous process? Because, as the government noted in court documents, U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not collect specific data on migrant family separations before April 2018.
The new lawsuit wants to not only know the number of children who remain separated, but whether and how they were categorized by the government, their medical treatment, how they are being educated in the meantime and more.
“They have to have records for people they are caring for,” said Fellmeth.
The government hasn’t coughed up much: a memo from former Attorney General Jeff Sessions outlining his reasoning for prosecuting every person who crosses the border illegally — otherwise known as “zero tolerance” — and another procedural document that is already public.
“They are basically saying ‘fuck you’ in terms of the law,” Fellmeth said.
Though most plaintiffs don’t take advantage of it, Fellmeth said, FOIA allows them to depose the people most knowledgeable about the documents being sought. That’s something he wants to do.
“I’m going to make sure the world knows what the hell is going on,” Fellmeth said.
- Reveal has more details on how the government is failing to reunite many children with their legal guardians. The ACLU case that’s attempting to force the Trump administration to reunite families only applies to adoptive or biological parents and excludes legal guardians.
- The U.S. government will now be conducting DNA tests at the border to check for adults fraudulently claiming to be parents of children with whom they cross the U.S.-Mexico border. (Associated Press)
Lots of Asylum Changes at the Border
The 9th Circuit of Appeals said the Trump administration can force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for court hearings while the policy is challenged in court. (Los Angeles Times)
In a new push to restrict asylum claims, Border Patrol agents will be given new power to evaluate initial asylum claims and the administration is taking some discretion away from trained asylum officers. (Los Angeles Times)
Asylum officers say they’re worried they’re being forced to send some Central Americans to wait in Mexico, where they may face danger or persecution. (Vox)
The AP finds 13,000 migrants on lists waiting in Mexican border cities for their turns to request asylum in the United States. Many people voiced concerns about migrants’ safety in these cities in a different AP story.
In a memo, the Trump administration instructed the U.S. attorney general and Department of Homeland Security to come up with proposals for several additional changes to the asylum process, including requiring those submitting asylum applications to pay fees. (Union-Tribune)
More Border News
- A new report from the University of San Diego on organized crime, violence and human rights in Mexico finds that Tijuana’s rate of 115 homicide cases per 100,000 inhabitants ranks second nationwide to Acapulco’s rate of 127 cases — an increase of 41 percent between 2017 and 2018. Notably, the report’s authors found that Mexican organized crime groups have become “more fragmented, decentralized, and diversified in their activities.”
- A third Guatemalan child has died in U.S. custody at the border since December. (AP)
- Several Democratic senators have requested that the Pentagon drop plans for military personnel to support the Department of Homeland Security and directly interact with migrants on the southern border, saying it could violate America’s long-standing separation of the military and law enforcement.
- Eater San Diego has a run-down of where to eat and drink right now in Tijuana.
- There are a lot of reporters parachuting into San Ysidro — the neighborhood of San Diego right along the border — to cover immigration issues and they often grossly mischaracterize one of the city’s most interesting and vibrant neighborhoods. As people continue to turn their attention here, I’d suggest they read this story by my colleague about the history of San Ysidro and how its residents have long felt disconnected from the city of San Diego.