On January 31st, 2020, ProPublica published a disturbing account of how the Border Patrol’s heightened legal powers and the agency’s general carelessness have resulted in continued family separations at the southern border. The account that is highlighted in the report paints a very troubling picture of how the Trump Administration is treating vulnerable asylum-seekers.
Families Broken Apart By Gender-Separated Processing Rules
The piece from ProPublica’s immigration policy reporter Dara Lind focuses on the disheartening story of a family of Central American asylum-seekers. The family of four—a mother, father, six year-old-boy, and 19-month-old girl—arrived at the U.S. border after a harrowing journey that started in Honduras. As they arrived, American border patrol agents aggressively separated them into larger groups based on their gender. The mother and her 19-month-old daughter went in one direction. The father and his six-year-old son went in another direction.
Half the Family Went to San Jose, California, the Other Half to Juarez, Mexico
Within days, this family found itself on opposite sides of a heavily guarded international border. For reasons that were not well-explained to them, the mother and daughter were sent to wait in Northern California and the father and son were sent back to Mexico. Despite repeated pleas from the family, little information about what was happening and where they were going was provided by the agents.
As it turns out, ProPublica was able to determine that there was initially an oversight in how they were processed. Carelessness by the Border Patrol meant that the husband and wife were never labeled as part of the same family unit. No one bothered checking on the matter until the asylum claim went to an immigration court many months later. Fortunately, their story has a positive ending: All four members of the family were eventually granted asylum. Sadly, other families have not been as fortunate.
Understanding the “Legal Black Hole” of Rapid Deportation
It is important to recognize that what happened to this family is the direct result of policy choices made by the Trump Administration. Due to the rapid deportation policies imposed, families are still sometimes separated in what many experts are calling a “legal black hole.”
A complaint filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas noted that the Trump Administration has given individual border patrol agents virtually unfettered discretion regarding who goes where to wait for an asylum claim to be adjudicated. As a consequence, families can be separated—with some members being forced to wait in Mexico while others are in the United States.
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