Several migrant parents separated from their children after crossing the United States-Mexico border have claimed that officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) intimidated them into waiving their rights to be reunited with their children.
Trump administration officials say that 154 parents willfully waived away their rights to reunification, but several parents working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other rights groups say they were coerced into that decision, NBC News reports.
In a court filing last week, the ACLU said some parents were “misled or coerced into believing that asserting their asylum claim would delay or preclude reunification.”
Ascención, a migrant from Guatemala who does not understand English, says immigration officials told him that only his son would be allowed to remain in the U.S., and that they pressured him to sign a Separated Parent’s Removal Form.
“The officer did not allow me to explain why we were in the United States,” Ascención, who declined to provide his last name, told NBC News. “They forced me to sign documents even though I asked to speak with someone before signing.”
In late July, the ACLU submitted a 120-page filing in federal court alleging that U.S. immigration officials misled or coerced dozens of immigrants into agreeing to be deported without their children.
Parents, according to the filing, were falsely told that signing the documents would result in their children being released from custody. Others were told they would have to pay $500 for every meeting with their attorneys.
“Based on my discussions with these fathers, it appears that none were told the implications of what they were signing or had an understanding of what they were signing,” Luis Cruz, a New York-based attorney who interviewed several migrants, said in the filing.
U.S. government lawyers have resolutely defended the administration’s actions since federal judge Dana Sabraw ordered the government to reunify immigrant families separated by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy back in June. Some 2,551 children ages 5 to 17, and 103 children under age 5, were separated by the policy. As of last week, 24 children under age 5 remained separated, as well as 541 older minors.
A new plan submitted to Sabraw last week provides a blueprint for finding parents who have been deported and arranging travel for the separated children. The plan also calls on the government to assess immigrants’ fitness as parents.
In a related development last week, Sabraw indefinitely froze deportations of reunited families. The moratorium gives parents time to decide if they should fight their deportation cases or leave their children behind in the U.S. to pursue asylum.