Roughly 180 children continue to remain detained after their parents refused to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to separate their families, Roll Call’s Tanvi Misra reports. Outraged advocates raised alarms last week that officials were presenting detained parents with a cruel “binary choice”—either agree to have their kids released without them, or remain jailed together indefinitely.
NBC News reports none of the families so far have allowed ICE to separate them under this “Sophie’s Choice.” While ICE is denying that it is seeking to tear families apart—"it was not the intention of the agency to do any separations," an unnamed official claimed to NBC News—the agency’s own words say otherwise. A report submitted by ICE to a court on the status of detained families lists row after row of “parent does not wish to separate.”
Advocates said during their press call last week that they believed ICE was also pushing this binary choice on parents because officials needed to justify to a federal judge why they were continuing to keep kids jailed for longer than the 20-day limit under the Flores agreement—and amid a pandemic. “If the mothers do not agree to their child being separated, the form claims they have ‘waived’ their child's right to release,” tweeted immigration reporter Jack Herrera.
“’The timing is no coincidence,’ said Shayln Fluharty, director of the Dilley Pro Bono Project, which provides legal services for families in detention in Dilley, Texas,” advocacy group America’s Voice said.
“The immigration attorneys, who belong to pro bono legal service providers RAICES, ALDEA and Proyecto Dilley, said ICE had not notified them in advance that it would present parents with such a choice,” Misra continued in the report. “The lawyers said the parents recounted that ICE agents did not provide other options and did not clarify whether or not parents would be deported without their children, some of whom were as young as 1 year old.”
Considering the administration deported hundreds of parents without their children under the barbaric “zero tolerance” policy, it’s a real fear. Misra reports that federal legislators from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have pledged an investigation into this binary choice as advocates condemned this taxpayer-funded cruelty playing out in migrant family jails across the U.S.
“Trump’s family separation policy remains one of the worst things done by this or any other modern U.S. administration,” America’s Voice deputy director Pili Tobar said in a statement. “While the American public is focused on testing, tracing, and treatment for coronavirus, Stephen Miller and his allies are quietly reconstituting the policy and taking advantage of the pandemic to implement a ‘Sophie’s choice’ for immigrant parents: stay in detention with your child indefinitely and risk getting infected, or separate from your child in order to get them out of detention.”
“Family separation was a level of cruelty and callousness that shocked America’s conscience and sadly, as we’ve learned, it never fully went away,” she continued. “This is another example of the Trump administration using this crisis to enact their anti-immigrant agenda and cause more long term damage to immigrants across the country.”