The government has separated 911 children from their parents since a federal judge ordered a stop to the systematic Trump administration policy last June, the ACLU reported in a court filing Wednesday.
Some separations, the group said, were based on clerical errors, bureaucratic indifference, unproven accusations of gang affiliations or otherwise minor offenses, like the “malicious destruction of property value $5.”
While the practice of separating every family apprehended at the border ended last year with the judge’s order, the government is still allowed to separate families when parentage cannot be confirmed, or when parents are deemed unfit or a danger to their children.
In its filing, the ACLU pressed U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw to raise the legal bar for such separations.
“The government is systematically separating large numbers of families based on minor criminal history, highly dubious allegations of unfitness, and errors in identifying bona fide parent-child relationships,” the civil liberties group said.
For example, a 17-year-old was separated from her father and placed in a New York shelter for four months due to the father’s offense of “malicious destruction of property value $5,” for which the father received a six-day jail sentence, the filing stated.
Six family separations, the ACLU said, were justified by past marijuana possession arrests or convictions.
Of the 911 separations since Sabraw’s initial order, the ACLU said, 185 included children under five years old, and of those, 13 children were less than a year old at the time they were separated from their parents. Over half of children separated from parents were 10 years old at the time.
In one instance, the ACLU said, the separation of a father from his three young daughters was based on the father’s HIV diagnosis. The ACLU said the government has “not explained why they believe an HIV diagnosis rendered the father dangerous to his own children. ”
In another case, a five-year-old was allegedly separated from her mother while the mother received emergency surgery for a broken leg. The mother and daughter were separated for 79 days before being reunited.
One father was allegedly separated from his one-year-old daughter, who had received medical attention for a high fever, after a guard criticized him for not changing the child’s diaper, the ACLU said.
“A female guard took his daughter out of [the father’s] arms, criticized him for not changing the diaper, and called him a bad father,” before separating them, the ACLU said. The father had no other criminal history, the filing noted.
In March 2019, a father was allegedly separated from his three-year-old daughter because his name did not appear on her birth certificate, despite the father presenting notarized documents from the child’s mother explaining the discrepancy. Immigration officials, the filing said, ignored the documents and the father’s pleas for a DNA test.
The father did not speak to his daughter for more than two months at first, and then only sporadically, the filing said. Meanwhile, the child’s government custody records showed that another child in her foster home “made [the child] touch her private parts and kiss her on the lips—behavior the foster parent discovered after hearing a disturbance in the middle of the night.”
The father requested to be voluntarily deported to Honduras in hopes of being reunited, per the ACLU. On July 11, a DNA test finally showed his parentage. A few days later, he was deported without his daughter, who remained in government custody in New York City as of a few days ago.