Advocates say US still separates migrant families needlessly

Months after the Trump administration ended the general policy of separating parents and children, advocates and members of Congress are questioning the treatment of children who cross the U.S.-Mexico border with other relatives. (AP)
Updated 21 February 2019
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Advocates say US still separates migrant families needlessly

  • The Texas Civil Rights Project released a report Thursday that counts 272 separations at a single Texas courthouse since June
  • The bulk of those cases involve children who cross the US-Mexico border with relatives other than their parents

HOUSTON: Months after the Trump administration announced an end to its widescale separation of migrant parents and children, the policy remains a heated issue in the courts and at the border as critics contend the government is still needlessly breaking up immigrant families.
The Texas Civil Rights Project released a report Thursday that counts 272 separations at a single Texas courthouse since June, when President Donald Trump issued an executive order ending widespread separations amid public outrage.
The bulk of those cases involve children who cross the US-Mexico border with relatives other than their parents, such as grandparents, uncles and aunts, or adult siblings.
Thirty-eight cases involved a parent or legal guardian, the majority of whom had criminal convictions, the group said.
In a statement, US Customs and Border Protection argued the group incorrectly categorized cases involving other relatives because the Homeland Security Act “does not make concessions for anyone other than a parent or legal guardian.” CBP includes the Border Patrol, which apprehends people entering the US illegally.
The government and the American Civil Liberties Union were due back in court Thursday to discuss what might be thousands of children who were separated before a June court order requiring the speedy re-unification of families.
The government has acknowledged taking more than 2,700 children from their families and has reunited most of them, but a watchdog report last month found that thousands of other children were separated and released before the order.
“What’s happening is the government is doing separations unilaterally without any process to contest the separations and without a child welfare expert overseeing the separations,” ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said.
One concern, Gelernt and others said, is the fate of children cared for by relatives in arrangements that were never formalized.
In one case discovered by the Texas Civil Rights Project, an 11-year-old boy from Guatemala was separated from his uncle, who was his caretaker because his father had not been involved in his life and his mother had died of cancer, said Efren Olivares, a lawyer for the project.
“Those are very difficult situations, especially because the government takes the position that it is not their responsibility to reunite them because they are not the legal guardian,” he said.
Lawyers from the project have gone almost every day since last spring to the courthouse in McAllen to find adults charged with illegally entering the US and ask them if they had brought any children. McAllen is in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal border crossings.
US immigration authorities say that under anti-trafficking law, children crossing the border without a parent or legal guardian must be processed as “unaccompanied,” even if they are with an adult who isn’t their parent or legal guardian.
“Absent verification that an adult is the parent or legal guardian of a minor, CBP will continue to prioritize the safety of a minor and comply with the statutory requirements,” the agency said.
Unaccompanied children and teenagers from Central America are generally sent to government facilities, while the adults could face detention and prosecution for illegally entering the US Authorities can also separate parents and children if it considers separation to be in the child’s best interest, with a parent’s criminal history often being a factor.
Gelernt said the government should work to determine if an adult relative is the child’s caretaker.
“There can’t be a presumption that you just take the child away if it’s not the biological or adoptive parent,” Gelernt said.
Members of Congress on Tuesday visited an emergency facility for migrant children in Homestead, Florida, which has expanded after the US Department of Health and Human Services closed a facility in Tornillo, Texas, under public pressure.
US Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Florida Democrat, said she had spoken to a girl who had been detained for nine months after being separated from her aunt. There were 1,575 children at the facility last week.
Another Florida Democrat, US Rep. Donna Shalala, said the government’s definition of an “unaccompanied minor” was too narrow and leads to unnecessary separations.
“If you don’t come with a parent, but you come with an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, or a brother, you are defined as unaccompanied,” said Shalala, a former health and human services secretary. “We need to get these children to family members much more quickly.”
The government said in December it had separated 81 migrant children at the border since the June executive order. According to the government data, 197 adults and 139 minors were separated from April 19 through Sept. 30 because they were found to not be related, though that could include grandparents or other relatives if there was no proof of relationship.
The Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general said last month that 118 children were separated from their parents from July 1 through Nov. 7.


French yellow vests protest in Paris amid tighter security

Updated 18 sec ago
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French yellow vests protest in Paris amid tighter security

  • The Champs-Elysees was almost empty Saturday except for a huge police presence
  • Paris police detained 51 people by early afternoon, issued 29 fines and conducted 4,688 “preventive checks” on protesters entering the capital

PARIS: Thousands of French yellow vest demonstrators were marching through Paris on Saturday as authorities enforced bans on protests in certain areas and displayed enhanced security measures to avoid a repeat of last week’s riots in the capital.
The crowd gathered peacefully Saturday at Denfert-Rochereau Square in southern Paris and then headed north. The protesters are expected to finish Saturday’s march in the tourist-heavy neighborhood of Montmartre around its signature monument, the hilltop Sacre-Coeur Cathedral.
French authorities have banned protests from the Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris and the central neighborhoods of several other cities including Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille and Nice in the south, and Rouen in western France.
The Champs-Elysees was almost empty Saturday except for a huge police presence. Scores of shops were looted and ransacked last weekend, and some were set on fire by protesters. Fear of more violence certainly kept tourists away, and police shut down the Champs-Elysees subway stations as a precaution.
Paris police detained 51 people by early afternoon, issued 29 fines and conducted 4,688 “preventive checks” on protesters entering the capital.
In Nice, police dispersed a few hundred protesters who gathered on a central plaza. The city was placed under high security measures as Chinese President Xi Jinping was expected to stay overnight on Sunday as part of his state visit to France.
The new Paris police chief, Didier Lallement, who took charge following the destruction wrought by last week’s protests, said specific police units have been created to react faster to any violence.
About 6,000 police officers were deployed in the capital on Saturday and two drones were helping to monitor the demonstrations. French authorities also deployed soldiers to protect sensitive sites, allowing police forces to focus on maintaining order during the protests.
President Emmanuel Macron on Friday dismissed criticism from opposition leaders regarding the involvement of the military, saying they are not taking over police duties.
“Those trying to scare people, or to scare themselves, are wrong,” he said in Brussels.
Christelle Camus, a yellow vest protester from a southern suburb of Paris, called using French soldiers to help ensure security “a great nonsense.”
“Since when do soldiers face a population? We are here in France. You would say that we are here in (North) Korea or in China. I never saw something like this,” she said.
Last week’s surge in violence came as support for the 4-month-old anti-government yellow vest movement has been dwindling, mostly as a reaction to the riots by some protesters.
The protests started in November to oppose fuel tax hikes but have expanded into a broader rejection of Macron’s economic policies, which protesters say favor businesses and the wealthy over ordinary French workers. Macron countered by dropping the fuel tax hike and holding months of discussions with the public on France’s stagnant wages, high taxes and high unemployment.
The yellow vest movement was named after the fluorescent garments that French motorists must carry in their vehicles for emergencies.