AUGUST 2, 2018
New court filings released late Thursday indicate that the Department of Justice and immigration advocates are still far apart in working out a process for reuniting migrant families who were separated under the Trump administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy.
U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw had instructed the Department of Justice and advocates lead by the American Civil Liberties Union to submit plans for reuniting families, especially some 400 parents who already were deported back to their homes countries without their children.
Judge Sabraw had asked for the plans in anticipation of a hearing scheduled for Friday August 3.
In the court documents, the government appears to shift the responsibility for reunifying the families onto the ACLU, also known as the plaintiffs in the case.
"Plaintiffs' counsel should use their considerable resources and their network of law firms, NGOs, volunteers, and others, together with the information that Defendants have provided (or will soon provide), to establish contact with possible class members in foreign countries."
The government also suggests that the ACLU should be responsible for ascertaining "whether each possible class member wishes to be reunified with his or her child, or whether he or she wishes to waive reunification. Plaintiffs' counsel would be responsible for ensuring that each possible class member has the opportunity to consult with a lawyer regarding that decision, and to discuss that decision with his or her child."
In its court filing, the ACLU insisted that the government "must bear the ultimate burden of finding the parents."
"Not only was it the government's unconstitutional separation practice that led to this crisis, but the United States Government has far more resources than any group of NGOs (no matter how many NGOs and law firms are willing to try to help). Plaintiffs therefore hope that the Government will take significant and prompt steps to find the parents on their own."
Finding the parents who were deported without their children is difficult because some come from very remote communities in Central America, says the founder and executive director of Justice in Motion, Cathleen Caron. The Brooklyn-based non-profit is among the groups trying to help reunite families.
Caron says many of the parents initially fled their homelands out of fear for their safety.
"So if they're deported back they are concerned for their own safety in the country of origin. So who knows where they're going to go because they're going to hide because that was the reason that they left in the first place," said Caron.
Judge Sabraw originally had set a deadline of July 26 to reunite more than 2,500 families.
According to data released Thursday, 1,535 children have been reunified with their parents in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Another 444 were discharged to a sponsor other than their parents; reunified with their parents in the custody the Department of Homeland Security earlier in the process; or the children turned 18.
There are still 572 children who remain in the custody of DHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement because their parents aren't available or are considered ineligible for reunification if they have a criminal record.
JULY 26, 2018
A mother at LAX threw her arms around her two teenagers, whom she had not seen in two months. Another waited anxiously in south Texas for her 7-year-old boy to arrive from New York. And in a village in Guatemala, a father who was deported in June did not know when he might see his 6-year-old daughter again.
A court-imposed deadline that had government officials scrambling to complete the reunification of more than a thousand migrant families by Thursday led to emotional scenes across the country, as parents and children who had not seen each other for weeks or months were together again.
But much remains unresolved after months of chaos and confusion resulting from the Trump administration’s family separation policies.
Under an order issued by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego, Thursday was the deadline for reuniting the more than 2,500 children who were taken from parents at the border.
With just hours left before the deadline, government officials said Thursday afternoon that they had reunited 1,442 children with their parents.
An additional 378 children had been released to sponsors, were reunited with their parents in other ways or have turned 18, according to court filings.
More than 700 were deemed ineligible by the government for reunification. Among them are 430 children whose parents have already been deported.
Those that were reunited, meanwhile, face an uncertain future — 900 of them have been ordered deported, according to court filings.
The American Civil Liberties Union, whose lawsuit against the government led Sabraw to order the reunifications, is arguing that those families should be allowed to remain in the country for seven days in order to consult with lawyers.
Hundreds of other families have been released from detention with the adults wearing ankle monitors, pending hearings on their asylum claims. And more than 200 families were sent to detention centers, where parents and children are being held together.
On a call with reporters Thursday, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Health and Human Services described a much smoother reunification process than advocates and lawyers say they have seen firsthand.
In preparation for reunifications, officials said, children were moved for short periods of time into detention center conference rooms and offices that were stocked with food, water and games. Some watched DVDs or played video games while their parents were processed.
“When we knew the parent was coming, we had them ready so kids could leave soon,” said Matthew Albence, executive associate director of enforcement and removal operations for ICE.
Officials said they were confident all families that it has deemed eligible would be reunited by the end of the day Thursday.
But in addition to the deported parents, officials said nearly 300 children would not be reunified with their parents for various reasons. According to the government’s filing, several dozen children had parents who failed a background check or other government review. And the parents of 120 children waived reunification.
Officials said parents opted to leave children behind with spouses or other relatives and had been given the opportunity to change their minds.
In court documents filed by the ACLU on Wednesday, a number of parents who waived reunification described signing forms they did not understand because of language or literacy barriers.
Many of these parents “in fact do want their children back and did not remotely understand their rights,” the ACLU said in its filing.
For those families that were eligible for reunification, chaotic scenes unfolded around the country as officials rushed to meet the deadline.
In south Texas, hundreds of families were taken to the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle, a massive shrine that Catholic Charities has converted into a shelter.
Demonstrators denouncing Trump administration immigration policies protest outside the federal courthouse in McAllen, Texas, on Thursday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The Rev. Jorge Gomez said the charity has opened the basilica to separated families and those released together, about 300 each night, including pregnant women.
Some groups arrive in the early hours of the morning, and Catholic Charities has been serving meals not just at the shrine, but in the rectory where Gomez lives.
"Seeing the joy of people reunited with their families is my happiness," he said.
One morning, Gomez said he went to wake a group of 80 sleeping in conference rooms, and found many of them still asleep, embracing their children.
"There are people who were in New York and their children were in Houston; there are parents who were in El Paso and their kids were in Chicago. There's one today … the child was in Wyoming and the mother was in Atlanta, and they reunited them in the [Rio Grande] Valley," he said.
At a bus station in the Texas border town of McAllen, Houston lawyer Ruby Powers said she had spent the last couple of days scrambling to figure out where and when her client, a mother named Ana, would be reunited with her 7-year-old son.
Powers received a message late Wednesday from a caseworker saying that the boy would soon be returned from a shelter in New York. She bought her client a $150 nonrefundable ticket to Louisiana, where the mother had planned to meet her son. And Powers flew from Houston with a booster seat for the boy.
But after another conversation with the boy’s caseworker, it was decided to send the boy to Texas.
On Thursday afternoon, Powers waited to hear when he would arrive before buying another ticket so mother and son could go to Louisiana.
“They said 10:30 p.m., McAllen, but I’ll believe it when I get the flight confirmation,” she said.
In Los Angeles on Thursday morning, a volunteer group of mothers with the California chapter of Immigrant Families Together helped Merin Cardoza Cardona get a ride to LAX where she would see her children for the first time in two months.
The group formed just one month ago to raise money to bail parents out of jail and buy plane tickets home.
When Cardoza Cardona’s children, Yensi, 17, and Edwin, 11, appeared down a long hallway amid a stream of travelers, the mother gasped and ran to throw her arms around her kids.
“It is the greatest joy to see them again,” said Cardoza Cardona, who plans to seek asylum in coming months. She had been detained in Texas while her children were held in a shelter in Miami.
“I don’t know where we’re going to live or what’s next, but we’re together now,” Cardoza Cardona said. “I have faith that God will help us.”
The family’s reunification is among a few that have taken place in Los Angeles in recent weeks. But advocates believe the city, home to a large Central American population, will soon begin receiving many families that were released pending the outcome of their cases.
One group, Immigrant Defenders Law Center, said it had already received word of 35 families that were recently reunited in Texas and are headed to Los Angeles.
Most of them are immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala, coming via bus or plane from El Paso.
Along with providing legal assistance, the group has a case manager on staff to connect families to services.
County and city officials have also been meeting with nearly 40 agencies to work out a plan to help reunited families. Their aim is to connect parents and children to services such as housing, school enrollment and trauma counseling.
With the deadline gone, one of the biggest questions that will remain is the fate of those children whose parents were deported.
No plan has been put in place yet that paves the way for these reunions to happen.
And finding the parents will take an extraordinary amount of work, especially for asylum seekers who may fear government prosecution and “may not want their country’s government looking for them,” said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt.
“I’m under no illusions it’s going to be easy,” he said.
A consortium of nonprofit organizations — including Al Otro Lado and Kids in Need of Defense — recently announced it would step up efforts to find deported parents and reunite them with their children.
“We’re doing the job of the government,” said Nan Schivone, legal director at Justice in Motion, an immigrant rights group based in Brooklyn, N.Y., that is part of the effort. “We shouldn’t have to search high and low for the people the government separated from their kids. The government should have kept better track.”
Among those hundreds of deported parents is Nazario Jacinto-Carrillo, a 32-year-old potato farmer from Guatemala who said Thursday that he still doesn’t know when he’ll be reunited with his 6-year-old daughter, Filemona, whom he hasn’t seen since she was taken from him after they illegally crossed the California border in May.
From his village in the western highlands of Guatemala, Jacinto-Carrillo said by telephone, he keeps in contact with an attorney and Guatemalan consular officials in New York who are trying to arrange Filemona’s flight home.
He has provided copies of birth certificates of family members. The consulate, he said, has provided her a passport. Filemona also appeared at an immigration hearing in New York last week.
On Wednesday morning, Jacinto-Carrillo's attorney called him to confirm what he already feared: There would be no reunification by the government deadline. He asked why it was taking so long. His attorney told him that immigration officials wouldn’t tell her why.
“I’ve done everything required, but there’s still no explanation,” Jacinto-Carrillo said. “I have no idea when I’ll see my daughter again.”
The Trump administration has admitted in court that it deported at least 468 immigrant parents without their children, and while those families are entitled under a federal court order to the chance to be reunified, the Trump administration has yet to make any effort to find them.
“We don’t keep track of individuals once they’ve been deported,” Matthew Albence, the head of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, told reporters on a conference call Thursday. Asked what the plan is now for reuniting hundreds of children in U.S. custody with parents already removed from the country, a Health and Human Services official demurred, saying they are awaiting instructions from federal courts.
In this vacuum, a host of advocacy and faith-based groups have mobilized, launching a sprawling, transnational effort to track down hundreds of parents and ask them whether they want to their child returned to them or to leave them behind in the United States to pursue asylum on their own.
The task ahead is daunting for the independent groups, which include the Women’s Refugee Commission, the International Red Cross, Save the Children, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Justice in Motion and the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I don’t have a magic bullet for how we’re going to do it. It’s just going to be very hard detective work,” an exhausted Lee Gelernt, the ACLU’s lead attorney in class action lawsuit over the family separations, told reporters Thursday. “We’re going need every piece of information the U.S. government has about them so we have some basis to go on, including the name of any relative listed in an interview.”
When pressed to provide such information at court hearing on Friday, attorneys for the Trump administration complained that doing so would be “burdensome” and “onerous” and would divert resources from the other ongoing reunification efforts.
But U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who is presiding over the case, shot back that the administration is “at fault for losing several hundred parents.”
“That’s the most pressing group,” Sabraw said of the parents removed from the country. “All efforts have to be made to identify and locate those parents and then to reunify as quickly as possible.” On Sunday, he ordered the government to turn over the names of the deported parents along with any other piece of information that could help the ACLU and other groups track them down.
While the consulates in the parents’ host countries would normally be used to locate people in such a situation, that collaboration isn’t possible if the parents fled to the U.S. in the first place because of government persecution.
“If people were seeking asylum because they feared their own government, they may not want the consulate looking for them,” he explained.
Christie Turner with Kids in Need of Defense flagged an additional challenge.
“Because they were fleeing violence and persecution, they in all likelihood cannot return to where they were living before,” Turner said. “They are essentially in hiding, so they will be very difficult to contact.”
For parents who have returned to rural, remote towns in Central America that have little phone or internet access and few residents who can translate between Spanish and indigenous languages, the task is harder still.
Scattered to the wind
The Trump administration has not disclosed how many of the 468 separated parents who are no longer in the U.S. were forcibly deported and how many signed “voluntary departure” papers.
Trump administration officials told Politico that the vast majority of the deported parents in that situation were never even given the option of having their children returned to them. Those who were given the option — including the more than 100 who allegedly waived their right to be reunified with their children — may not have been afforded informed consent. The ACLU submitted extensive sworn testimony on Wednesday alleging that few if any understood what they were agreeing to, and claiming that many felt “coerced” and “intimidated” into signing the forms, which were often provided in a language they cannot read or understand.
“When these parents find out what they actually signed, they break down in tears. They do want their children back,” Gelernt told reporters Friday after the hearing. “I can’t imagine anything closer to torture than to send these parents back home to their countries and make them live the rest of their lives knowing that just because they got confused or felt pressure, they gave away their child by mistake.”
The Texas Civil Rights Project, which is working with hundreds of separated families in the McAllen, Texas area, told reporters on a conference call on Friday that seven of their clients have been deported without their children — four fathers from Guatemala and three from Honduras, with children ages 6 to 17. Despite having only the parent’s name, national origin and date of birth, the organization has been able to establish contact with three of them, all of whom say they desperately want to be reunited with their children.
“We are being as creative as we can,” said Efrén Olivares with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “We reached out to relatives in the U.S. to try to get their phone numbers down in Central American. We are working with the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office in Guatemala and Honduras, and they have been very, very helpful. We are talking to NGOs that do human rights work on the ground in Central America to ask them to assist us if they can on this effort, and we are also considering hiring private investigators to assist us.”
Nan Schivone told TPM that her New York-based organization Justice in Motion is collaborating with community and religious radio stations in Central America to begin airing public service announcements that the deported parents may hear.
“We want to spread the message that if there are separated parents who don’t know where their kids are, they can come forward in confidence,” she said.
Schivone said that this and the groups’ other efforts to locate the parents are entirely funded by donations and foundation grants, with no assistance from the Trump administration.
“The government created this mess but they’re leaving it to civil society to clean up,” she said.
Because of the difficulties involved, the ACLU is not asking courts to set a hard deadline for locating the deported parents. Rather, they have asked that if and when they are located, and if they do want their child returned to them, that the Trump administration make it happen within seven days.
Judge Sabraw issued a decision on July 16 to halt the deportations of separated parents, hundreds of which may have taken place prior to his ruling. If more parents were deported since then in violation of the court order, they may be entitled to come back to the U.S. to be reunified with their children and pursue asylum. Whether the Trump administration will attempt to block such returns remains to be seen.
“I think the government is going to fight very hard to not let anyone come back, and secondarily, going to fight very hard to not pay for that travel,” Gelernt predicted.
A harrowing choice
When 25-year-old Elsa Johana Ortiz Enriquez crossed the border with her 8-year-old son Anthony on May 26, border agents separated her and son. A few days later, he was shipped to a shelter for “unaccompanied” children and she was put on a plane back to Guatemala. Ortiz told the New York Times that she is “completely devastated” and has no idea when or if she will see her son again.
Guatemalan Elsa Ortiz, who was deported from the U.S. in June, asks to have her son back as she demonstrates outside the hotel where US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and authorities from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico, are holding a meeting in Guatemala City on July 10, 2018. Nielsen arrived in the Guatemala to discuss the migration crisis unleashed by Washington’s “zero tolerance” practice with authorities of Mexico and countries of the North Triangle of Central America. (Photo by Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images)
“Please don’t put me on the plane,” she said she pleaded with the immigration officials. “I can’t go without my son.” When she could not stop sobbing, she said, the agents on the plane gave her a tranquilizer.
Ortiz has since retained a U.S. attorney to help her fight to get her child back. And when Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen traveled to Guatemala City in early July for a summit with Central American officials, she traveled from her small village to the nation’s capital to stand outside the summit’s hotel with a sign reading “Please give me back my son.”
Despite Judge Sabraw’s order, she has yet to hear if and when they will be reunited.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 11, 2018
Justice in Motion
New legislation would bring transparency to U.S. visa system and prevent human trafficking
Washington D.C., January 11, 2018: Today, on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), and U.S. Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) introduced the Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act, a bipartisan bill designed to shed light on the intersection of human trafficking and the temporary foreign worker visa system. The legislation is also co-sponsored in the House by U.S. Representatives Randy Weber (R-TX), Jim Himes (D-CT), Ted Poe (R-TX), and David Schweikert (R-AZ). The bill is supported by experts from the Economic Policy Institute, Justice in Motion, Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program, and Polaris. If passed, this bill would create a uniform system for publicly reporting data that the government already collects on temporary visa programs, allowing an examination of temporary visa holder exploitation.
Every year, close to one million workers come to the United States on temporary work visas to fill jobs in a number of occupations, including farm labor, landscaping, hospitality, as well as information technology jobs and teaching jobs. Unfortunately, the system is sometimes leveraged by unscrupulous employers using these legal government programs to severely exploit workers and even enslave them. According to the Urban Institute, in a sampling of labor trafficking cases, 71 percent of victims of forced and coerced labor originally entered the United States on visas.
“It is extremely difficult to uncover basic facts about temporary work visa programs, including how many temporary migrant workers are currently employed in the United States,” said Daniel Costa, Director of Immigration Law and Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). EPI has attempted to publish the numbers of temporary migrant workers employed by visa classification based on the limited data that is available, but those are just estimates; no official government estimate data exists by visa class. “We also know that the migrant workers in these programs are exploited by their employers thanks to numerous reports in the media, from think tanks, as well as government auditors.” Costa added.
Work visa programs require that visa holders only work for the employer that solicited the visa. Often, when a work visa holder complains about employment conditions, employers retaliate with threats of deportation or by firing the worker. Once a visa holder no longer works for the sponsoring employer for whatever reason, he or she becomes instantly deportable. In a system that gives employers this type of control over their employees, human trafficking will continue to run rampant and unethical employers will be free to undercut the law-abiding competition.
“We cannot allow employers to continue manipulating the visa system,” said Cathleen Caron, Executive Director at Justice in Motion. “By doing so we are allowing them to commit heinous crimes against workers who come to this country on a legitimate visa expecting that the job they were recruited for is secure and that their employer can be trusted. This bill will give us access to the data we need to make sure that a job opportunity on a temporary work visa does not devolve to severe exploitation and human trafficking.”
From data published by the Human Trafficking Legal Center, a significant number of federal human trafficking cases involved victims holding non-immigrant work visas. From 2003 through 2017, 261 civil suits were filed in federal court that contained claims of human trafficking. Of those, 122 alleged the trafficking of a non-immigrant visa holder. According to this data, nearly half of the human trafficking victims that filed a federal lawsuit held a non-immigrant work visa in one of eleven visa classifications, from the more commonly known H-2A agriculture visa to the lesser known A-3 and G-5 domestic worker visas.
Those are just the cases that were officially filed, but human rights advocates indicate that the rate of exploitation is much higher and needs to be addressed. “Based on reports of labor trafficking and labor exploitation made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Polaris knows that the abuse of guest workers is relatively common. Unfortunately, except for these individual cases, that is about all we know,” said Joe Racalto, Polaris’s senior policy advisor. “This legislation will be critical to developing pointed interventions that will help end the abuse of temporary visa holders, and we are incredibly grateful for these Congressional leaders' making it a priority.”
“I came to the U.S. through Indonesian recruitment agency who promised me 6 months’ employment at a hotel in Chicago after I paid $,3000 for the recruitment fee,” said Shandra Woworuntu, Founder and Vice-President of the Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program. “They obtained the paper work to get the visa. The fact is, I didn't work in the hotel as promised. Instead, I was kidnapped, my passport was taken, the traffickers asked me to pay $30,000 and forced me to be sex slave in the underground sex business in New York, Connecticut and surrounding areas until I escaped. I believe intervention without prevention in combating human trafficking and exploitation is not a complete solution. We need more transparency and better data about workers who come to the U.S., and the Visa Transparency Anti Trafficking Act will be perfect to prevent temporary workers who come to the U.S. from being exploited and trafficked like me,” she said.
If Congress passes and the president enacts the Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act, we will gain insight into who the employers are and key workforce demographics such as where the workers come from, and the terms and conditions of employment. The data that this bill requires be made public is already collected by the government. For the first time, policymakers and the public will have access to the data needed to examine the impact that temporary visa programs have on the economy and the labor market, and advocates will have a valuable tool at their disposal to inform and reach out to potential victims of human trafficking.
About Justice in Motion:
Justice in Motion protects migrant rights by ensuring justice across borders. Legal and practical barriers prevent many migrants from asserting claims in a country when they are no longer present, or from collecting evidence in other countries. To address these challenges, Justice in Motion promotes “portable justice” to ensure that migrants can access justice across borders when they challenge an exploitative employer, denounce an abusive government action, or seek refuge from harm. Justice in Motion is dedicated to exposing and overcoming these injustices through legal, educational, and policy initiatives in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America. Essential to this transnational model is our Defender Network, a unique partnership of on-the-ground human rights organizations in Mexico and Central America. Justice in Motion makes sure that wherever migrants go, their rights will follow.
The legislation has the support of: AFL-CIO; Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST); American Federation of Teachers; Centro de los Derechos del Migrante; Coalition of Immokalee Workers; Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST); Economic Policy Institute, Freedom Network, Free the Slaves; Futures Without Violence; International Labor Recruitment Working Group (ILRWG); Justice in Motion, National Domestic Workers Alliance; National Employment Law Project; National Guestworker Alliance; Polaris; Safe Horizon; Service Employee International Union (SEIU); Southern Poverty Law Center; UniteHERE; Verité; and Vital Voices.
 Understanding the Organization, Operation, and Victimization Process of Labor Trafficking in the United States, 2014, page 23. The Urban Institute/Northeastern University report is based on a detailed review of 122 closed labor trafficking cases, supplemented by interviews with some of the victims involved in those case
 Data provided by The Human Trafficking Legal Center in Washington, D.C., October 2016.
CLICK TO LISTEN TO PRESS CONFERENCE
BLUMENTHAL, CRUZ, FRANKEL, & DEUTCH TO INTRODUCE BIPARTISAN BILL TO PREVENT HUMAN TRAFFICKING
January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day
[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), and U.S. Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL), and Ted Deutch (D-FL), and leading anti-human trafficking advocates held a press conference call for reporters Thursday, January 11 at 9:00 AM ET to announce the introduction of the bipartisan Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act to prevent human trafficking by bringing more openness to foreign temporary worker visas.
Today Justice in Motion joined over 560 organizations nationwide in sending a letter to DHS and to ICE calling on them to recognize that the executive actions and new DHS policies make our communities less safe and that immigrant survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking deserve protection. We are proud to be a part of this effort--read the full letter here : https://goo.gl/E4Hr9z
Legal Director Nan Schivone explains how migrant lives are improved when civil society responds through cross-border collaboration at a leadership summit on community responses to global migration, "Asylum, Refuge, and Relocation" cohosted by Georgia Tech and Emory University.