- A former Obama-era immigration official warned the current “zero-tolerance” policy that has led to separating families at the border could result in families never being reunited.
- Parents charged with illegal entry can choose an expedited deportation, but it can take years to process children’s deportation cases.
- This could create “thousands of immigrant orphans” in the United States, the official said.
The former director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Barack Obama warned that the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that has led to the separation of families who arrive together at the border could result in “thousands of immigrant orphans in the US” left behind after their parents are deported.
“Permanent separation. It happens,” John Sandweg, the former ICE director, told NBC News on Tuesday. Sandweg served as the acting director of the agency from 2013 to 2014.
Under current policy, parents charged with misdemeanour illegal entry go into federal custody, where most plead guilty. Many choose an “expedited removal process” to be deported back to their home countries in the hopes that they will then be reunited with their children.
But when their parents go to jail, children are placed in a shelter run by government or with relatives in the US. They do not, however, have a similar fast-track option to go back to their home countries along with their parents.
Children are entitled to a full hearing before an immigration judge, a process that takes much longer since they are considered a lower priority for deportation, according to Sandweg.
“You could easily end up in a situation where the gap between a parent’s deportation and a child’s deportation is years,” he said.
White House spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp claimed to Fox News on Tuesday that the separations of children and parents are temporary measures that last for “a limited period of time between five to 10 days.”
Stories from the border, however, say otherwise. Some parents have already been deported back to their home countries while their children remain in shelters in the United States, such as a Guatemalan woman featured in a recent New York Times story. Another detained migrant woman told The New Yorker she has been separated from her 5-year-old son for six weeks while she awaits deportation.
“If they don’t reunite these kids these kids with their parents right away, what can happen is the kids will be stuck here in the United States for years, guardians will be appointed, and the parents will be down in Honduras or Guatemala with no idea where their child is and no meaningful way to reunite,” Sandweg said.
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