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Home | Tag Archives: immigrant children separation

Tag Archives: immigrant children separation

Detention Center for Immigrant Children in Tornillo Will Remain Open Through mid-September

TORNILLO — The immigration detention facility for undocumented immigrant minors in this West Texas outpost will remain open another month, federal and state officials confirmed on Friday.

The facility was erected in June and was originally scheduled to close in July, but federal officials extended the contract with its service provider until Aug. 13. But a spokeperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families said the facility will now be up and running until Sept. 13.

The detention center, which critics have called a “tent city,” houses unaccompanied minors who crossed the border illegally.

“HHS will continue to assess the need for this temporary shelter at Tornillo Land Port of Entry, Tornillo, Texas, based on projected need for beds and current capacity of the program,” the spokesperson said in a news release. “HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement is continuously monitoring bed capacity available to provide shelter for minors who arrive at the U.S. border unaccompanied and are referred to HHS for care by immigration officials, as well as the information received from interagency partners, to inform any future decisions or actions.”

San Antonio-based BCFS Health and Human Services currently operates the facility, but the HHS spokesperson said in an email that no new contracts for operations at Tornillo were awarded. A spokesperson for the company did not respond to an email requesting comment on the latest extension.

The announcement came the same day Democratic state Reps. César Blanco of El Paso, Mary González of Clint, Eddie Rodriguez of Austin, Ina Minjarez of San Antonio, Diego Bernalof San Antonio and Gina Hinojosa of Austin, all members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, toured the facility. They said there are more than 170 immigrant minors in Tornillo, but none are children who were separated from their parents or guardians under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigration. The facility previously housed a small number of those children, but they have all been released, Minjarez said.

The lawmakers said that while attention from the border crisis has somewhat shifted to other topics, they wanted to keep a spotlight on the Trump administration’s immigration policies and its effect on the minor children. The Tornillo facility was constructed after the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy was enacted and was only necessary because it led to an influx of children in other shelters who would otherwise have been left with their parents or guardians.

“We are the only country in the world who incarcerates children [because] of their immigration status,” González said. “At this moment in history, there are kids who could be with families. What we heard today was that the only thing that was stopping these kids from being with their sponsors or with their families [in the United States] was the federal government’s lack of movement regarding background checks. All the kids had a place to go.”

The lawmakers said there are more than 170 undocumented minors at the facility, including 103 from Guatemala, 55 from Honduras, 20 from El Salvador and four from Mexico.

González and Rodriguez said that because the Tornillo facility is on federal land, there is little lawmakers can do in terms of oversight and regulation. They said that policy could create an incentive for the federal government to construct similar detention centers elsewhere and shut out local or state lawmakers who oppose the administration’s continued crackdown on undocumented immigrants who are seeking asylum in this country.

“I think as members of the Texas Legislature, we want to try to get more oversight of these types of facilities, but when they are on federal land it becomes very challenging” Rodriguez said. “So what I am going to be looking at … is what Congress does in terms of putting more of these on federal land so they take away [oversight] from the state government. If that happens, we’ll have tent cities everywhere.”

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Trump Administration Reunites 57 Immigrant Children Under 5, Declares “Eligible” Reunifications Complete

The federal government said Thursday morning that it has reunited 57 immigrant children under the age of 5 who had been separated from their parents after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. In doing so, the government declared its efforts to reunite “eligible children” in that age group complete.

Those 57 children represent more than half of 103 “tender age” juveniles who had been identified as separated from their parents in a court case the American Civil Liberties Union filed against the government. The California judge in the case had ordered those children reunited by Tuesday. The rest of the children have been deemed ineligible for immediate reunification.

More than 2,000 children over the age of 5 remain separated from their parents. The court has set a July 26 deadline for those children to be reunified.

Of the kids under the age of 5 deemed ineligible for reunification, 12 have parents who were already deported by the U.S. government. Those parents “are being contacted,” according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release. Another 22 were found to be ineligible for reunification due to safety concerns (most often because their parents had a serious criminal record), there were worries about abuse or the adults they were supposed to be reunified with weren’t their parents. Eleven children’s parents were also in custody for other alleged criminal offenses. And in one case, the government has lost track of a child’s parent for more than a year.

In a joint statement, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions acknowledged that a “tremendous amount of hard work and obstacles” remain in the reunification process.

“The Trump administration does not approach this mission lightly, and we intend to continue our good faith efforts to reunify families,” they said.

But in a statement, the ACLU noted that the unifications were completed two days beyond the original deadline.

“If in fact 57 children have been reunited because of the lawsuit, we could not be more happy for those families,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “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.”

Most families had been divided as part of the Trump administration’s now-reversed practice of separating those who crossed the border illegally — though some had also been separated before the policy became official, and some had been separated after seeking asylum legally at official ports of entry into the United States.

This week, families who have been reunified have been released from federal custody, given ankle monitors and ordered to appear back in court for their immigration proceedings. But government lawyers have indicated to the court that they might not continue that practice for long. In the future, the government has indicated, officials might give the parents a choice: Agree to be detained with their child — and give up that child’s right to be released after 20 days — or release their child to the custody of the federal government.

In their update on the reunification efforts, the three cabinet secretaries defended the Trump administration’s handling of the family separations.

“The American people gave this administration a mandate to end the lawlessness at the border, and President Trump is keeping his promise to do exactly that. Our message has been clear all along: Do not risk your own life or the life of your child by attempting to enter the United States illegally. Apply lawfully and wait your turn,” they said in their joint statement.

“The American immigration system is the most generous in the world, but we are a nation of laws and we intend to continue enforcing those laws,” they said.

Author: MATTHEW WATKINS – The Texas Tribune

Confusion, Tension Roil Texas-Mexico Border as Federal Government Attempts to Reunify Immigrant Families

BROWNSVILLE — President Trump suggested Sunday the United States should block people fleeing violently volatile countries from seeking asylum here and deport any non-citizen trying to cross the border without due process.

“We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country,” Trump tweeted. “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order.”

His statements, made in a series of tweets, drew immediate rebukes. They came days after his administration hastily cobbled together a reversal of a recent policy that has left thousands of undocumented immigrant children detained in federal facilities separately from their parents.

And despite federal authorities’ assertions late Saturday that there are plans to reunify many of the 2,053 separated children with relatives, confusion and tension continued mounting along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We cannot simply take them at their word, especially when we are getting conflicting messages,” said Efrén C. Olivares, a racial and economic justice director for the Texas Civil Rights Project in McAllen.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that 522 separated children have already been reunited, though it was unclear whether they were returned to their parents or another relative or adult. More than 2,053 separated children remain in federal custody, and federal officials said 16 children were expected to be reunited with their parents by Sunday evening.

A downtown El Paso shelter named Annunciation House, which has taken in immigrants for decades, was preparing Sunday for what shelter Director Ruben Garcia said was likely one of the first groups of parents to be released by Customs and Border Protection after having their charges for illegal entry dismissed since the recent zero-tolerance policy began.

But after they are processed and given an orientation by the center’s legal coordinator, the daunting challenge of locating their kids begins.

“We do not know exactly the people who are coming to us, we do not know where their children are, so none of us can answer that question for you,” Taylor Levy, the shelter’s legal coordinator told reporters during a Sunday afternoon press conference. “No one really knows where their children are – except for the government. [It] somehow knows.”

Some of those parents who crossed the border in the El Paso sector have since been transferred to federal detention centers other parts of the nation while their children have remained on the border.

“I received a call, for example, from an attorney in Denver [Saturday],” Levy said. “She’s been representing a woman who’s now been detained for over two months. She spoke to her 5-year old son for the first time yesterday and that 5-year-old son is being housed somewhere in El Paso.”

She said immigrants are given a government phone number to call, and “you wait on hold … and then they take information from you and that’s about it. That is the same information if you are calling and you are a lawyer, if you are calling and you are a social worker, if you are calling and trying to advocate on behalf of these families.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement this weekend designated the Port Isabel Service Processing Center as the primary place for

Photo courtesy Darla Cameron / Texas Tribune

detained families, many of whom fled Central American countries mired in gang violence, to be reunited and returned to the countries from which they came.

Journalists were not allowed inside the Port Isabel center Sunday afternoon.

Federal officials said in a statement released late Saturday that when undocumented children are detained and sent to the Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, information about their parents or guardians is provided by Homeland Security “to the extent possible.” Authorities also said they are working across federal agencies to “foster communications” to reunite separated family members through a “well-established” process.

But in McAllen, Olivares said the Civil Rights Project has interviewed more than 375 immigrant families, and “Everyone we have interviewed has not been told any of that information.”

Also on Sunday, CNN reported that a teenage boy ran away from Southwest Key Program’s Casa Padre shelter, a converted Walmart in Brownsville that houses more than 1,400 migrant children. An investigation by The Texas Tribune found that inspectors in recent years identified hundreds of violations at nonprofit Southwest Key’s 16 Texas facilities, including 13 at Casa Padre.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., visited a McAllen immigration center on Sunday and told reporters afterward that children 12 and older were not being kept with their parents. She said people were sleeping on concrete floors and in cages.

“There’s just no other way to describe it,” she said.

Warren, a frequent foe of Trump’s, said that she spoke with some of the detainees with the help of an interpreter. She said that one Central American told her that after she gave a police officer a drink of water in her home country, gangs assumed she was helping law enforcement.

“So she sold everything she has and she and her 4-year-old son fled the country,” Warren said. “She believes she would not survive if she went back.”

Meanwhile, the president’s social media comments Sunday drew the ire of of civil rights groups, who plan a protest in Brownsville later this week.

“What President Trump has suggested here is both illegal and unconstitutional,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Any official who has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws should disavow it unequivocally.”

In his tweets, Trump suggested the unfolding crisis is the fault of Democrats and said the country’s immigration policy is the laughingstock of the world and unfair to “people who have gone through the system legally.” He said his administration is doing better than his two predecessors, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican George W. Bush.

“Immigration must be based on merit — we need people who will help to Make America Great Again!” Trump wrote in a nod to his successful 2016 campaign slogan.

Freelance journalists Ivan Pierre Aguirre, Rey Leal and Andres Torres and Texas Tribune editor Matthew Watkins contributed to this report.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Authors: BRANDON FORMBY AND JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Sens. Cruz, Cornyn Tour Shelters Housing Immigrant Children Separated From Families

WESLACO — After touring shelters that house some of the thousands of migrant children separated from their parents under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, Republican U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas reaffirmed their commitment to keeping kids with their parents after they cross the border — so long as future immigration policy better deters people from entering the country illegally.

“Kids are better off with their moms and dads,” Cruz said Friday during a roundtable discussion at a South Texas Border Patrol station, an event that also featured Cornyn. “I hope we see Democrats and Republicans willing to work together to ensure that … but also to ensure … that we’re respecting the rule of law.”

At the same time, Cruz and Manuel Padilla, chief of the Rio Grande Valley sector of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, sought to make the case that housing migrant children in overcrowded shelters without their parents is nothing new and spanned previous presidential administrations. They said the problem really came to a head in 2014, when more than 51,000 children — mostly from Central America — crossed into the U.S. by themselves.

In a wide-ranging discussion that included more than two dozen mayors, county judges, state lawmakers, federal officials and nonprofit leaders — and just two women — Cornyn said he would like to instruct the nation’s immigration courts to prioritize cases where families crossed the border with children. Cruz said the legislation he introduced in Congress last week is the best way forward. That legislation, which he acknowledged may not have enough support to advance, would require the federal government to keep immigrant families together once they cross the border “absent aggravated criminal conduct or threat of harm to the children.”

Cruz filed his legislation just days after seemingly defending the “zero tolerance” policy, telling KERA in Dallas that “when you see reporters, when you see Democrats saying, ‘Don’t separate kids from their parents,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘Don’t arrest illegal aliens.'”

At Friday’s roundtable, no one seemed to have any answers about how families that have already been separated will be reunited.

An official from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said that kids in shelters could be transported back to their parents’ location in just days — depending on where that is. But it’s unclear how good the record-keeping is that links detained parents to separated kids. And Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and a fierce advocate for ending the policy of family separation, said she’d heard reports of Honduran families waiting as long as four months to be reunited.

Asked to reconcile those conflicting time periods, federal officials said it depends. Sometimes a child raises questions about parental abuse. Other times, it can take days or weeks to make sure that “mom is really mom,” said Jose Gonzalez, a field supervisor with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal agency tasked with looking after the kids. For kids who are too young to talk or identify their own parents, the agency sometimes uses DNA testing, which takes 7 to 10 days. “It may take up to four months to get them together,” Gonzalez said. (Asked about that four-month statistic later on by reporters, Cornyn insisted, “that’s not true.”)

When Cruz asked Ryan Patrick, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District and the son of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, how many of the immigrants his office has prosecuted for illegal entry crossed with children, Patrick replied, “We actually don’t know.”

Both Cruz and Cornyn said they were heartbroken after touring shelters for children in the Rio Grande Valley, one of which was run by Southwest Key Programs, a Texas-based company that houses nearly half the undocumented kids in federal custody. Despite an investigation by The Texas Tribune and Reveal into hundreds of state violations at some of Southwest Key’s facilities, Cornyn said he believes the company is “doing a very good job.” He described watching the company’s employees take care of weeks-old babies, delivering what he saw to be excellent care.

“You can’t believe all the rumors that are flying around,” he said.

Cruz said little about the conditions of the shelters he toured, other than to offer that “no child should have to experience it.”

Otherwise, both he and Cornyn stuck closely to their talking points. They were encouraged and “gratified” by President Trump’s executive order ending the family separation policy; they felt that legislation would be necessary to carry it out in full force; but they also wanted to make sure that changes in federal immigration law would not encourage illegal immigration.

“If you don’t have a zero tolerance program, then you have a tolerance program,” Cornyn told reporters after the roundtable. “Meaning you tolerate illegal immigration.”

Author: NEENA SATIJA – The Texas Tribune

Texas House Speaker Straus Asks Trump to End Policy of Separating Immigrant Children

Texas’ Republican House Speaker Joe Straus asked President Donald Trump on Tuesday to rescind the “zero tolerance” policy of his administration that has led to thousands of immigrant children being separated from their parents at the border.

“I know that members of Congress from both parties have proposed various ways to address this issue in the form of legislation, and while I applaud their attention to the problem, I also know that congressional action often does not come quickly,” the speaker told Trump in a letter. “In order to at least begin addressing this issue, there is no need to wait for Congress to act. That’s why I respectfully ask that you move immediately to rescind the policy that [Attorney] General [Jeff] Sessions announced in April and any other policies that have led to an increase in family separations at the border.”

In the letter, Straus also rejected arguments by the Trump administration that the policy could be used as leverage against Democrats in Congress. “It is wrong to use these scared, vulnerable children as a negotiating tool,” Straus wrote.

The speaker, who is retiring early next year, continued: “Please listen to the growing number of Americans, faith leaders and elected officials from both parties who are voicing our concerns about this growing crisis. This is not a binary choice between rampant crime and tearing families apart.”

Straus has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of the policy among Texas Republicans, along with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes. Outgoing state Rep. Jason Villalba has also made clear his opposition to the policy, writing a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, on Tuesday imploring him to “hear the cry of the little ones at our border who have been torn from their loving mothers and fathers.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

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