Faith-based and secular immigrant rights groups are expressing outrage over revelations in a federal watchdog report that say the Trump administration intentionally prevented hundreds of deported migrants from leaving the U.S. with their children.
The revelations surfaced in a May report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, which found at least 348 such deportations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement from July 2017 to July 2018.
The practice existed within Donald Trump’s wider crackdown on immigration and his administration’s notorious policy of separating immigrant families at the border — detaining children while sending their parents away.
Homeland Security officials claimed some migrant parents had chosen to be deported without their children, a claim upended by the OIG investigation.
At the time, Homeland Security officials claimed some migrant parents had chosen to be deported without their children, a claim upended by the OIG investigation.
“In fact, ICE removed some parents without their children despite having evidence the parents wanted to bring their children back to their home country. In addition, we found that some ICE records purportedly documenting migrant parents’ decisions to leave their children in the United States were significantly flawed,” the report states.
Details of the report elicited swift condemnations from immigration advocates and at least one major government official.
“The findings in this report are hard to fathom,” said Ali Noorani, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum. “As terrible as we knew family separation was, the government’s failure to respond in cases when families wanted to be deported together extends the bounds of shamefulness.”
Denying deported migrant parents the option to leave with their children also violated core spiritual principles, said Elket Rodriguez, a Texas-based attorney and immigrant advocate with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Fellowship Southwest.
‘These are not the values that represent our God or our country,” he said. “It is an affront to our biblical belief in human dignity, to human rights, to basic morality and to common humanity.”
Rodriguez said that, as a parent, the 28-page government report was a tortuous and difficult read. “My heart is torn apart by these findings. I can’t conceive or even fathom the pain of being involuntarily separated from my children. It must be as if someone is ripping the soul out of you. And that is what these parents experienced.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who requested the report, echoed the outrage in comments to the Associated Press: “Those who conceived of this travesty will have to live with the memory of their cruelty for the rest of their lives.”
The May 18 OIG report followed others in uncovering irregularities related to the Trump administration’s immigration and border polices, including the “zero tolerance” approach that separated thousands of parents and children who had crossed into the United States from Mexico. Close to 400 migrant children remain in the U.S. as the search for their parents continues.
Despite DHS and ICE claims to the contrary, the inspector general found inadequate and inconsistent procedures for safeguarding against deporting immigrants without their children.
“We confirmed that before July 12, 2018, migrant parents did not consistently have the opportunity to reunify with their children before removal,” the report says. “Although DHS and ICE have claimed that parents removed without their children chose to leave them behind, there was no policy or standard process requiring ICE officers to ascertain, document, or honor parents’ decisions regarding their children.”
The report uncovered glaring contradictions in how ICE officers were to treat immigrants.
“For example,” it says, agents had “more than a page of detailed guidance regarding the return of a detainee’s personal property, requiring ICE officers to use a standardized property receipt form; obtain the detainee’s signature; verify both the detainee’s identity and signature; and obtain the approval of a shift supervisor.”
The issue of deportees and separated children, however, was handled much less formally. Agents weren’t required to formally document parents’ requests to be reunited with children prior to deportation. They could even choose not to ask a parent about the preference at all, the report says.
“Under the present system migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property.”
“Indeed, in its June 26, 2018, order prohibiting the government from detaining most separated parents apart from their children, the Ms. L v. ICE court observed that ‘the unfortunate reality is that under the present system migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property.’”
As a corrective and preventative remedy, the OIG report recommends improved documentation for parental preferences about either taking or leaving minor children in the U.S. upon deportation. It also recommends better information sharing between governmental agencies to aid in child-parent reunification efforts.
Noorani welcomed the report and its suggestions. “It’s good to see that the administration is taking a hard look at this policy and its effects,” he said. “Never again should family separation be government policy.”
Rodriguez noted the report is proof that more change is needed in righting the wrongs of Trump-era immigration practices.
“What makes this report more compelling is the fact that this is not the first report exposing the unfair treatment of migrants under ICE’s custody or during their intervention,” he said. “This OIG report exposes how the broad range of discretion granted to immigration officials in our current system has created a culture where lack of accountability and impunity reign.”
ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, he added, “should be included in our country’s efforts to reform our policing and enforcement system, since ICE and CBP’s framework of enforcement authority is far greater over migrants than that of a law enforcement officer over an American citizen.”
Similar concerns about the leadership and staff of ICE and CBP are driving to a proposed bipartisan bill on immigration reform. The bill would grant these very officials more authority to fix the broken system of which they are a part.