Judge Orders Reunification Plan for Deported Parents, ACLU Presents Evidence of ICE Coercion

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A man, identified only as Renan, has a quiet moment as he spends time with his son, Nathan, 11, as they are cared for in an Annunciation House facility after they were reunited on July 25, 2018, in El Paso, Texas. Renan and Nathan, originally from Honduras, were reunited at an ICE processing center about two months after the two were separated when they tried to cross into the United States. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the federal government to produce a plan that reunifies migrant children in the United States with their deported parents. The order is the latest development in the ongoing family separation case prompted by President Trump's zero tolerance immigration policy.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will also have to produce a plan that would reunify the 431 migrant children still in the U.S. with their parents, who have already been deported.

The ruling effectively continues a moratorium on deportations of separated and reunited families, which Sabraw implemented as he waits to get updates on the progress of family separations. The government has agreed to halt deportations for the time being as another case involving family separation works its way through a federal court in Washington, D.C. Sabraw’s ruling came despite arguments from government officials that the San Diego-based judge did not have the authority to halt deportations.

Sabraw’s ruling follows two affidavits filed by the ACLU alleging U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers are purposely misleading migrant parents separated from their children into agreeing to deportation.

According to an affidavit provided by attorney Laila Arand under penalty of perjury, four parents separated in Texas were handed forms by ICE agents with three options: parents could either choose to be deported immediately with their children, to be deported without their children -- should they lose their immigration case -- or to talk to an attorney before deciding what to do.

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The forms were put in front of the parents on a bus. According to the affidavit, ICE loaded the parents on the bus with promises of reunification, before stopping it 10 minutes into the journey and turning around to the El Paso deportation center. Then, as parents wondered whether the reunifications with their children had been canceled, ICE agents handed out the forms to the worried parents.

The affidavit states that ICE officers pressured the parents to agree to deportation. Arand reports that ICE officers told one parent if he did not sign the forms agreeing to deportation, he would “never see his child again.”

Meanwhile, the forms were already filled out before the parents received them, with the first option -- deportation -- selected. All four parents Arand spoke with refused to sign the forms, and none of the parents were given a copy of the form ICE required them to sign.

In another affidavit, Oregon-based attorney Stephen Manning stated that children should have their own “credible fear” interviews for asylum independent of their parents. He stated that this has been the practice conducted by ICE in the past for families held in detention together and facing expedited removal.

As in the past, if any member of the family -- parent or child -- passes a credible fear interview, the whole family goes into regular immigration proceedings, instead of the fast-tracked expedited removal process. Manning said that had the families not been separated, both the parents and the kids would have had a chance to pass these credible fear interviews, and parents would not have been forced to choose between staying with their child or letting their child pursue asylum on their own.

These new claims come after a federal attorney argued on Friday that such coercive tactics were not happening, and that halting deportations was unnecessary and would lead to burdensome logistical problems for government officers.