by Brian Griffey, researcher and advisor on the USA, Amnesty International
Here’s a grim trend: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is increasingly separating families who are seeking asylum at the southern US border with Mexico — reportedly to deter them from coming here. Threatening the mental anguish of separation from their loved ones, and indefinite detention without due process or legal representation is cruel — and needs to stop.
Amnesty International is campaigning to reunite parents and kids separated by ICE — including Jose and his 1-year-old son Mateo. On November 16, ICE’s San Diego Field Office simultaneously separated them along with three other families, as they sought to apply for asylum as family units. Amnesty International has issued an Urgent Action on their cases, as well as an online action for Jose and Mateo.
Amnesty International has found a range of shocking ICE practices when separating asylum-seeking families:
1. When Jose and the other three fathers refused to surrender their children, ICE officials threatened to use physical force that could traumatize the children, and said that it could endanger their families’ asylum claims.
When one father still refused to surrender his child, the ICE officials forcibly tore them apart and took his child anyway. ICE declined to provide further information about where they were taking Mateo and the other children, offering only an information hotline to request updates. ICE officials provided no clear justification when separating Jose from Mateo, or any of the other three families.
2. ICE then processed the four children as “unaccompanied minors”, placing one of them in a shelter in Arizona, and the other three small children in foster care in Texas.
The foster care program in Texas has now been caring for Mateo for over a month since ICE separated him from his father Jose, keeping him 1,500 miles away from his father in immigration detention in San Diego.
3. When Amnesty International asked ICE to justify separating Jose and Mateo, they falsely claimed they were unable to establish their family relationship, and so had to separate Mateo from his father for his safety — when in fact they had documented proof of relationship from the time Jose and Mateo approached the border.
Amnesty International has copies of the documentation that Jose presented to US Border and Customs Protection (CBP) agents when he claimed asylum with Mateo. ICE never asked Jose for that documentation and claimed that CBP was not in possession of it. However, CBP confirmed that it had placed copies of the documents in Jose’s and Mateo’s file, which had been in ICE’s possession all along. ICE continues to tell media the false story that it doesn’t have proof of their relationship.
4. Despite having copies of Jose’s passport and Mateo’s birth certificate, ICE reached out to the consulate of El Salvador to confirm their family relationship.
It defies reason — and the law — to share details of a family’s asylum claim with the very government they are feeling to seek refuge from persecution. Even though CBP and ICE have been in possession of official identification documents proving the family relationship of Jose and Mateo, ICE told Amnesty International that “The final determination on the status of the relationship will be made by the consular officials.”
5. ICE’s efforts to separate asylum-seeking families have reportedly been ongoing since at least 2015 — yet Amnesty International partners have informed us that the practice is happening more and more often on the southern border, apparently to scare asylum seekers from seeking refuge in the US.
On December 11, a group of organizations defending immigrants’ rights filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and the DHS Office of the Inspector General, on the same pattern of violations by ICE tearing families apart in numerous other cases.
This is a scary time for Jose, Mateo, and all asylum-seeking families separated at the border, but you can help. Join Amnesty International’s campaign to reunite and release this family.