The Trump Administration Had a 5-Year-Old Sign Away Her Right to Be Reunited With Her Family 


There is seemingly no end to the trauma migrant families are enduring as a result of the Trump administration’s family separation policy: The New Yorker reports that a five-year-old Honduran girl named Helen was separated from her family, detained, and then, before a bond hearing (established by an agreement known as the 1997 Flores Settlement), was given a legal form to sign. At the bottom, it read,“I withdraw my previous request for a Flores bond hearing.” And “beneath that line,” the New Yorker reports, “the five-year-old signed her name in wobbly letters.”

Helen’s mother and grandmother contacted LUPE, a nonprofit that offers social services for low-income Texas residents. Once LUPE’s lawyers navigated the complicated maze to track Helen down, the Office of Refugee Resettlement ran a background check on her mother, Noehmi, which again stalled. In the meantime, Helen was transferred to a foster home.

ORR did not release Helen to Noehmi, so Chavez enlisted the help of other nonprofits and collected hundreds of signatures on a petition calling for Helen’s release. Only then did ORR respond:

On September 7th, LUPE was told that Helen would finally be released, nearly two months after she was taken from Noehmi. “We were attached to our phones all freaking Saturday,” Chavez said. “Then she wasn’t released—they played us!” LUPE’s team adjusted the petition to address a greater number of O.R.R. officials, each of whom received a personal e-mail every time a person signed. Paola Mendoza, an artist and prominent voice for immigrant rights, tweeted about the petition, as did the actress Alyssa Milano. “We got six thousand signatures, then ten thousand,” Chavez said. Then, that Monday, Noehmi and Jeny got a phone call: they should be at their local airport at 6:20 p.m.

Tania Chavez, a Fund Development & Systems Strategist at LUPE, told the New Yorker that what happened to Helen is the third stage of the family separation crisis, where reunification has stalled or blocked:

Now stage three has commenced—one in which separations are done quietly, lupe’s Tania Chavez asserts, and in which reunifications can be mysteriously stymied. According to recent Department of Justice numbers—released because of an ongoing A.C.L.U. lawsuit challenging family separations—a hundred and thirty-six children who fall within the lawsuit’s scope are still in government custody. An uncounted number of separated children in shelters and foster care fall outside the lawsuit’s current purview—including many like Helen, who arrived with a grandparent or other guardian, rather than with a parent. Many such children have been misclassified, in government paperwork, as “unaccompanied minors,” due to a sloppy process that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General recently critiqued. Chavez believes that, through misclassification, many kids have largely disappeared from public view, and from official statistics, with the federal government showing little urgency to hasten reunifications. (O.R.R. and U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to requests for comment.)

As families continue to fight for reunification, it’s unclear how many families are struggling to be reunited. According to a new Amnesty International report, the number of families separated by the Trump administration may be much higher than reported.

The Intercept reports:

Figures provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection detail the separation of 6,022 “family units” from April 19, 2018 to August 15, 2018, according to a report published by Amnesty International on Thursday. Noting that the term “family unit” has varying applications in the U.S. immigration enforcement world — sometimes referring to individuals in a family, and other times referring to family groups containing multiple people — Amnesty observes that even on the low end, the figure reflects the largest total ever disclosed by the border enforcement agency in the context of the family separation crisis.
Using available statistics from the last two years, Amnesty further reports that in 2017 and 2018, the Trump administration appears to have separated approximately 8,000 “family units” along the border. Even if half of the people referred to in that figure were parents, the remaining 4,000 children would dwarf the total number of kids commonly reported to have been impacted by the “zero tolerance” campaign — that total tends to hover between 2,500 to 3,000.

Customs and Border Protection did not offer clarification on how they define “family units” for Amnesty International’s report, but called the report “not even remotely credible and should not be treated as such,” in a statement to the Intercept.

Helen has been reunited with her family, but the months-long separation has changed her. “Helen was always a very calm girl,” Noehmi said. “Now I have to be very patient with her—she’s very attention-seeking.” Helen is so scared that her family will leave her that she hides in the closet at night, refusing to sleep. “You left me behind,” she told her mother.

Read the rest of the New Yorker’s report here.

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