On May 7, 2018, the United States implemented the “zero tolerance” family separation policy, directing immigration authorities to systematically separate children from their parents at the border, a practice that had been ongoing as early as November 2017. The stated purpose of this policy was to deter future migrants from attempting to cross the border, including migrants seeking asylum in the United States fleeing violence or persecution in their home countries. Although the government formally ended the policy in June 2018 following widespread public outcry, many hundreds of children remain separated from their parents. To address this problem, on February 2, 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order in an effort to reunite children separated from their families at the United States-Mexico border. Numerous nonprofit agencies and law firms, including Proskauer, have stepped forward to help victims of family separation obtain humanitarian parole and become reunited with their families.
News sources have widely reported that beginning in 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began expelling from the United States immigrant women who recently gave birth, as well as their U.S. citizen infants. These actions were part of the former administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which, among other things, intentionally separated thousands of families at the border. Regardless of any right to asylum, these women were expelled from the country days after giving birth. Even though their U.S-born children would have been U.S. citizens, many mothers were not even given birth certificates for their children. Making matters worse, these women were often forced into dangerous conditions, having to sleep in shelters or on the streets in Mexico with their newborns.
An anxious mother, detained in a separate facility from her son, is informed that authorities had lost track of him. A devastated father is deported without his child. A crying child is ripped from his father’s arms and put into a cage-like metal cell. These Proskauer clients – all escaping violence in Central America – suffered those horrors not in their home countries but in the country where they sought asylum, in the United States.
Beginning in 2017 as a pilot project, the U.S. government began splitting thousands of families in an effort to deter immigration across the southern border. The practice became official in 2018 through the government’s “zero tolerance” policy which called for the detention and prosecution of all individuals – including those seeking asylum – who crossed the border anywhere other than an official port of entry.
While national outrage prompted an official end to the policy, the government did not stop, and to this day continues to separate families. In total, over 5,500 children have been separated from their parents since 2017, at least 1,100 of whom were separated after the policy officially ended. Tragically, the parents of 666 separated children still have not been found.