‘Zero tolerance’ policy creates administrative, humanitarian crisis in US

UPDATE — 7/9, 2:48 p.m. EDT: A federal court judge in San Diego has extended Tuesday’s deadline for American authorities to reunite over 100 illegal immigrant children five years old or younger with their parents after the government requested more time citing logistical difficulties. 

According to Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian, 54 children currently in U.S. custody will be returned to their legal guardians within approximately 24 hours.


On Tuesday, June 26, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw issued an order specifically requiring federal agents to stop detaining migrant children apart from their parents and setting a timeline for the reunification of families already separated.

The deadline for putting migrant parents in touch with their offspring by phone expired Friday with some parents still reporting that they’ve been unable to speak with them. In a status hearing, the Trump administration admitted that it would likely miss the next deadline — July 10 — for reuniting children under the age of five with their parents, as well as the July 26 deadline for completing all reunifications.

White House attorneys cited the necessity for DNA testing on all parties to ensure children are properly reunited with related adults. This process became necessary as records linking separated adult and minor family members have disappeared or been destroyed, according to a report by the New York Times.

The necessity for such action is in direct contradiction to statements made by HHS Sec. Alex Azar and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), both of whom claimed the administration knew where every child was and could locate them “within seconds.”

Azar’s tweet Friday belied that characterization:

Attorneys for the Justice Department reported that of 101 children in custody younger than five, 83 had been matched with their parents. Forty-six of those parents were in the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. However, 19 parents had already been removed from the U.S. and 19 had been released by ICE — complicating the process of finding them.

The government was given a deadline of 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 7, to provide Judge Sabraw with a complete list of children under five that it believes are subject to the order and a list of the reasons that the children may not be reunited with their families.

There are still nearly 3,000 children in custody who have been separated from their families. According to an analysis by Syracuse University, over 200 children remain in U.S. detention even though their parents have already been deported. The government has requested these families be excluded from the reunification order due to difficulties associated with the process.

Meanwhile, reports of abuses continue to pour in. Allegations of children being drugged without parental consent, restrained, abused, sexually assaulted and threatened have been widely reported by news organizations. An ACLU report, co-written by the University of Chicago Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, says the U.S. government “has failed to provide adequate safeguards and humane detention conditions for children in CBP custody.”

“These failures”, the report continued, “have allowed a culture of impunity to flourish within CBP, subjecting immigrant children to conditions that are too often neglectful at best and sadistic at worst.”

Another status hearing is scheduled 10 a.m. Monday for the Trump administration to update the court on its progress in reuniting families. It is still unclear what reunification will look like for those awaiting immigration hearings in a system with a backlog of over 700,000 cases.

The government is erecting tent cities and plans to house nearly 20,000 detainees on U.S. military installations. However, these accommodations may be insufficient to hold all of those awaiting the outcome of their criminal and immigration hearings, especially if the White House continues its “zero tolerance” policy at the southern border.


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