President Trump came to office in January 2017 promising, among other things, to “crack down” on illegal immigration and build a fence along America's entire southern border with Mexico. The fence has yet to materialize, but the crackdown against undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. has made headlines for months.
As of this week, the focus of the administration's crackdown shifted from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials arresting undocumented workers across the country and deporting them to their home country to the way in which Department of Homeland Security officials will now handle individuals and families crossing the border illegally. The new DHS policy is to refer all persons caught illegally crossing the border for federal prosecution, whether or not they are asylum seekers. In addition, the policy includes separating children from the adults they are accompanying until the DHS establishes a family relationship between each child and his or her adult, usually the mother.
This new DHS policy ties in with the Justice Department's zero-tolerance policy for illegal border crossings. As Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in an Arizona speech on May 7, “If you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offense, we're going to prosecute you. If you're smuggling a child, that child will be separated from you. ... If you don't want your child to be separated, then don't bring them across the border illegally.” While the new policy does not apply to asylum seekers who arrive at an official U.S. port of entry without paperwork, immigrant advocates see the new family separation policy as an inhumane deterrence measure rather than one aimed at strict adherence to U.S. immigration law.
At least one woman whose four young children were taken from her when she illegally crossed the border has sued the Justice Department alleging discrimination. Her suit is still pending. Other undocumented immigrants, whether or not seeking asylum and with or without children, may well wish to contact a knowledgeable immigration attorney to obtain the legal help they need to reunite their families and defend against the criminal charges brought against them.
Source: CNN, “New DHS policy could separate families caught crossing the border illegally,” Tal Kopan, May 7, 2018