A father separated from his child as a result of a six-day jail sentence for destruction of property worth five dollars. A mother who broke a leg at the border and, while undergoing emergency surgery, had her five-year-old child taken from her. A three-year-old girl who was sexually abused in a shelter after being separated from her father because United States Customs and Border Protection wrongfully questioned his paternity rights.
These are a few of the many examples made public on Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union in a court filing describing how the Trump administration has separated more than 900 immigrant children, including a number of babies, from their parents at the southern border since June of 2018, despite a federal judge's order to halt family separations. The document shows that CBP often made these calls based on the parents' criminal history—678 out of the reported 911 child separations were based on allegations of criminal conduct—even if that meant only a minor traffic or disorderly conduct violation, or if there was no conviction.
"The government is systematically separating large numbers of families based on minor criminal history, highly dubious allegations of unfitness, and errors in identifying bona fide parent-child relationships," the court filing says.
In June of 2018, facing public outcry, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to end family separations resulting from his "zero-tolerance" policy to prosecute all adults crossing the border. Almost a week later, a U.S. district judge in San Diego, Dana M. Sabraw, ordered the government to reunite 2,700 children with their parents—a chaotic process that, as Pacific Standard reported at the time, resulted in children being kept illegally in short-term detention facilities beyond the 72-hour limit, according to a government report:
The lack of communication between departments created serious challenges when the government attempted to reunite families, as it was compelled to do by a court order in late June. The report found that government agencies are still attempting to reunite a number of children with their parents. And because of inaccurate, incomplete, or otherwise unreliable data, the administration remains unable to accurately report how many children are still separated from their parents.
When ordering the reunification of families, Sabraw created an exception for parents whose criminal histories or communicable diseases might pose a risk to their children. The ACLU now argues that the government is taking such exceptions too far, and that it must provide an "objective reason to believe the parent is unfit or a danger." According to the court filing, in more than 75 percent of the cases in the data periodically obtained by the ACLU, the government doesn't specify the nature of the crime committed, and the reasons for separation are described in no more than a few words.
In one instance, a father was separated from his three young daughters because he had an HIV diagnosis—which, as Human Rights Watch explained, is no longer on the list of communicable diseases that could bar entry to the U.S.
"It is shocking that the Trump administration continues to take babies from their parents," Lee Gelernt, lead attorney in the family separation lawsuit and deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, said in a statement. "Over 900 more families join the thousands of others previously torn apart by this cruel and illegal policy. The administration must not be allowed to circumvent the court order over infractions like minor traffic violations."