Disrupting and Dismantling Immigrant Families
The Trump administration has found yet another way to torment immigrant families who are undocumented. A new surge initiative is being carried out by ICE and is supposed to result in “disrupting and dismantling” smuggling and human trafficking rings. On the surface this sounds like something immigration advocates would welcome and embrace. But with closer scrutiny, it becomes clear this new initiative is also geared to disrupt and dismantle immigrant families as ICE agents have been given a new priority – to arrest and detain immigrant parents who pay for their children to be brought across the US border. Instead of only targeting the profiteers – the smuggling operations, coyotes, and human trafficking rings – ICE has orders to also go after the parents.
The young children and adolescents crossing the border are considered to be unaccompanied minors once they are detained by Customs & Border Patrol. Most of them are fleeing Central America; they are leaving countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala where they are vulnerable to gang violence and high rates of homicide. Admittedly, most often they are likely brought into the US by someone paid off by their parents – after all, it’s not like there are a whole lot of other options. Despite this, the Obama administration did the humane thing and allowed these families to reunite by releasing the children into the custody of their parents while asylum or deportation cases played out in immigration court. After all, unaccompanied minors are often traumatized and housing them with a caring parent seems like the most sensible thing to do.
However, last February a memorandum was released by DHS Secretary Kelly indicating Obama’s humane policy was about to end. This memo, being issued to implement two of President Trump’s executive orders, included directives that raised red flags among immigration advocacy groups. It laid out how new policies would be implemented that would target for deportation anyone who directly or indirectly facilitated the illegal smuggling or trafficking of an alien child into the United States. Through this memo, a warning shot was fired by the new administration that disrupting and dismantling human trafficking rings wasn’t their only priority; parents who were reunified with their unaccompanied minor children as a result of the previous administration’s policies were also in the crosshairs.
Having unaccompanied minors and their parents being targeted in the above mentioned memo was so troubling that attorneys from Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) prepared a practice advisory in order to assist legal practitioners who represent child clients in removal proceedings and to help them advise family members of such children. It cannot be understated how important it is for legal advocacy groups to quickly respond with effective strategies when these types of laws are put into place. While I do not represent unaccompanied minors or have any of their parents as clients, I have many colleagues who do and am fully aware of what they are experiencing as the Trump administration targets yet another cohort of immigrants they view as a priority to put into deportation proceedings.
To date, there are reports of ICE agents visiting the homes of unaccompanied minors after they are released to start deportation proceedings against their parents. There are other reports of parents being arrested and detained by ICE as they accompany their children to scheduled ICE appointments. As I write this, Secretary Kelly has been reassigned and no longer heads the Department of Homeland Security. It is unknown who his predecessor will be but I long for the days when DHS was led by someone like former Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson who held the position under President Obama.