SAN DIEGO – Today, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLUF-SDIC) and Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFS) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, calling on him to direct border agents to stop separating families seeking asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico.
DHS has started to unwind some of the harmful border policies implemented under the previous administration that obstructed access to the asylum system, but it continues to subject people seeking protection to detention and expulsion using policies such as Title 42 order. This Trump-era policy uses the COVID-19 pandemic as pretext to bar people from accessing the asylum system under the guise of protecting public health.
In the letter, ACLU-SDIC and JFS note that uneven application of these policies and practices to members of the same family units results in separations that can impact people’s mental health and due process in removal proceedings.
“Callous border enforcement that disregards the sanctity of family unity among people who have fled harm in search of protection compounds trauma, jeopardizes due process, and risks permanent separations marked by international borders,” said Monika Y. Langarica, immigrants’ rights staff attorney for the ACLUF-SDIC. “It’s past time for DHS to end heinous policies that enable separations, including Title 42 expulsions, and adopt humane practices that welcome people with dignity.”
These types of family separations are distinct from the separations that are covered in the ACLU’s Ms. L v. ICE lawsuit, which resulted from the Trump administration’s policy of forcibly separating and separately detaining young children and their parents.
ACLUF-SDIC and JFS learned about these separations earlier this year after interviewing people who had been recently released from CBP detention facilities in San Diego. For example:
- A pregnant couple who was seeking asylum was separated by CBP. The father was expelled to Mexico under Title 42 while the 5-months-pregnant mother was released into the U.S. without her partner.
- A 7-year-old girl and her mother were separated by CBP from the child’s grandmother, who serves as the child’s primary caretaker due to the mother’s cognitive impairments. CBP released the grandmother into the U.S. but expelled the child and her mother to Mexico under Title 42.
“Family units come in all shapes and sizes, and our border policies must reflect that,” said Kate Clark, senior director of immigration services for JFS. “Every day, we hear the horrific stories of persecution and violence that asylum seekers are fleeing and the possibility of being separated from family members adds to the crippling fear and trauma they face as they seek safety in the U.S. These stories drive our commitment to a more just system and make clear there is still work to be done.”
The letter urges DHS to stop its practice of splitting families by adopting a broader definition of “family unit” that comports with a common-sense understanding of what it means to be a family; documenting all relationships among family units that travel together; exercising discretion to extend grants of parole to all members of family units that travel together; and immediately halting Title 42 expulsions.