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Coalition Lodges Complaint with US Government on Behalf of Families Separated at the Border

By Alexandra Mendoza

A coalition of human rights organizations filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regarding the separation of families seeking political asylum upon their arrival at the United States border.

The document, filed on Dec. 11 with the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, lifts up the cases of 15 individuals (mostly Central Americans) who were separated from their family members by U.S. immigration officials shortly after arrival at the U.S. border seeking asylum.

“(These cases) show a concerning and growing trend of family separation,” stresses the complaint lodged by eight civil and human rights organizations including, among others, the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association (AILA) and the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC).

One of the cases quoted is that of Javier, a man from El Salvador who was separated from 12-year-old son Rodrigo after requesting asylum at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on Nov. 12, 2017.

According to the complaint, in the coming days he and other men were repeatedly pressured to give up their children. Javier reports that he never signed any documents relinquishing custody of his child; he further reports that he was given a phone number with which he could contact his son, but that his efforts to do so have so far been unsuccessful. Advocates have been able to ascertain that Rodrigo is currently at a shelter for refugee children.

This comes on the heels of another case reported by international media last month: the incident involving Jose Demar Fuentes, from El Salvador, who was separated from his one-year-old son Mateo at the same border crossing.

In this latter case, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) argued that the separation occurred because they had not been able to establish a familial relationship between the child and 30-year-old Jose. ICE stated that their concern was that criminal enterprises involved in human trafficking have a history of having adults travel with children who are not theirs to “minimize the likelihood of being stopped at the border.”

However, advocacy organizations say that immigration authorities have failed to adhere to their own detention standards, which state that “family unity will be preserved to the greatest extent possible, provided that there are no legal imperatives or clear security concerns that require separation.”

The organizations also feel that this is merely a tactic by the U.S. Government to deter families from fleeing to the U.S. to escape the violence ravaging their home countries. The complaint urges these agencies to “investigate and clarify” the issue, and to ensure their own commitments are implemented.

DHS has not made any statements regarding the complaint, as it is a pending investigation.

In recent weeks, there has been an increase in the number of families arriving at the U.S. border seeking asylum; however, immigration agencies acknowledge that many of them will not meet the necessary requirements to be granted such relief.

Last fiscal year, nearly 31,000 asylum applications were rejected as “inadmissible,” and this fiscal year-to-date, 2,000 petitions in the San Diego Sector and almost 9,400 border-wide have suffered the same fate.

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