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- The US government has begun to reunite children and parents who were forcibly separated at the US-Mexico border under the “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
- A new report suggests federal officials are pressuring parents to give up their asylum claims and accept voluntary deportation to see their kids faster.
- Some experts doubt the government would honor such deportation-for-reunification agreements.
Parents who have been separated from their children at the US border have reportedly been pressured to volunteer for deportation in exchange for seeing their kids again.
A 24-year-old Honduran father who is being detained at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Livingston, Texas, told The Texas Tribune on Saturday that to see his daughter he was asked to give up his asylum application and sign a voluntary deportation agreement.
He told The Texas Tribune that federal officials had suggested he would be reunited with his 6-year-old daughter at the airport before they were returned to Honduras if he agreed.
The man is now trying to rescind the form he had signed. He told The Texas Tribune: “I was told I would not be deported without my daughter. I signed it out of desperation … but the truth is I can’t go back to Honduras; I need help.”
Though he was being detained at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Livingston, Texas, he was apparently told his daughter was being detained in Arizona, about 1,000 miles away.
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The two were separated late last month in McAllen, Texas, after crossing the US-Mexico border illegally and turning themselves in to Border Patrol, The Texas Tribune said, adding that the man said he had talked to his daughter once on the phone once since their separation.
That situation does not appear to be unique. The man told The Texas Tribune that 20 to 25 other men detained alongside him at the IAH Polk County Secure Adult Detention Center were given the same choice.
Anne Chandler, a director at the Tahirih Justice Center, a charity for immigrant women and girls, said she had heard a similar account. Jacob Soboroff, an MSNBC correspondent, also reported on Sunday that parents were “quickly given the option” to sign deportation paperwork and that “many chose to do so,” citing a DHS official.
NEW: DHS official tells me this morning separated parents were quickly given the option to sign paperwork leading to deportation. Many chose do so.
That would mean a *large* percentage of parents of the 2,053 kids left in HHS custody may no longer be in USA.
Asked for numbers.
— Jacob Soboroff (@jacobsoboroff) June 24, 2018
Experts have also questioned whether the government would honor such deportation-for-reunification agreements.
“I doubt they would put his child on a plane to get her to where he would get deported out from, especially if she’s in Arizona,” said Cynthia Milian, a private attorney working with Tahirih. “I just don’t see that happening.”
The US government has started reuniting families as a result of President Donald Trump’s executive order to end the separation of migrant families along the US-Mexico border.
It does not end the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which seeks criminal prosecution of all migrants who illegally cross into the US. Rather, the order is likely to cause children to be detained with their parents.
A Department for Homeland Security “fact sheet” published Saturday claimed that the US government “knows the location of all children in its custody and is working to reunite them with their families.”
It added: “It should be noted that in the past many parents have elected to be removed without their children.”
The DHS added on Sunday night that it had reunited 538 children who were taken away from their parents at the borders as part of the zero-tolerance policy.
The Health and Human Services Department, which is responsible for the separated children’s well-being, added that more than 2,000 children remained in its facilities.
It said it was working with other government agencies to “foster communications” and reunite them with families “via well-established reunification processes.” The DHS did not specify how it was tracking and reuniting the families.
Business Insider has contacted ICE for comment.