Zero-Tolerance Immigration Policy Increases Family Separations

Oman Rodriguez-Avila is an undocumented father from Honduras who was separated from his 8-year-old daughter when they were caught with other immigrants crossing the border into the United States.

Standing before a judge who was preparing to sentence him for illegal entry into the U.S., Rodriguez-Avila said “I would ask that you give me a short sentence because my daughter is here.” The judge gave him 15 days because he had a previous conviction for the same offense in 2012 which got him deported.

Since the Trump Administration instituted a zero-tolerance policy for families crossing the border, some 500 children have been separated from their parents in the last month. Parents who have been arrested tell public defenders that they aren’t told what happens to their children after they are detained. Some have even reported being told that their kids are being taken to be bathed, only to end up not seeing them again.

When White House chief of staff John Kelly was asked about what he would say to people who call it “cruel and heartless" to separate a mother from her children, he said, “I wouldn't put it quite that way. The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever. But the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long."

The administration said it tries to reunite separated families as much as possible after court proceedings, however the onus is largely on the parents to locate their children within government custody and ask for their return.

When announcing the administration’s policy last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “If you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offense, we're going to prosecute you. If you're smuggling a child, we're going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don't want your child to be separated, then don't bring them across the border illegally."

The new policy does not extend to those seeking asylum through an official port of entry without paperwork; those people will instead be placed into immigration proceedings.

Illegally entering the country has long been punishable by up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine. However, other administrations before Trump’s usually didn’t refer individuals who were caught for prosecution. Critics of the new policy say immigration courts are being overwhelmed with low-level crimes, making it difficult to use resources to go after serious and dangerous crimes.

Do you need help reuniting with your family after being separated at the border? Our team of skilled Cleveland immigration lawyers can help with your case. We have the resources and knowledge that you need to uphold your rights under the law. Call (888) 491-8770 to set up a consultation with our legal team today.