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As 400+ Children Remain Separated from Parents, Trump Admin Wants to Detain Kids Indefinitely

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The Trump administration is attempting to remove court-imposed time limits on the detention of immigrant children. The administration’s proposal would allow immigrant families to be held in detention indefinitely, ending the long-standing 1997 Flores agreement which says that children cannot be jailed for more than 20 days. More than 400 children remain separated from their parents more than a month after a court-imposed deadline requiring the Trump administration to reunite all of the separated families. The American Civil Liberties Union says it appears ICE officials had access to the phone numbers of hundreds of parents of separated children before a federal court’s June 26 family reunification deadline, but intentionally withheld the phone numbers for months. We speak with Cathleen Caron, founder and executive director of Justice in Motion, a group spearheading an effort to find parents of detained children.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to the ongoing crisis of family separation at the border, as the Trump administration attempts to remove court-imposed time limits on the detention of immigrant children. The Trump administration’s proposal would allow immigrant families to be held in detention indefinitely, ending the long-standing 1997 Flores agreement, which says that children cannot be jailed for more than 20 days.

Over 400 kids remain separated from their parents more than a month after a court-imposed deadline requiring the Trump administration to reunite all the separated families. The American Civil Liberties Union says it appears ICE officials had access to the phone numbers of hundreds of parents of separated children before a federal court’s June 26 family reunification deadline, but intentionally withheld the phone numbers for months.

For more, we’re joined by a guest here in New York, Cathleen Caron, founder and executive director of Justice in Motion, a group spearheading an effort to find parents of detained children.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about this rule the Trump administration introduced yesterday.

CATHLEEN CARON: Sure. The rule is—it’s proposed regulatory changes, so there will be 60 days for the public to comment on it, and it’s going to put into effect, supposedly, the Flores agreement, which will then end the Flores agreement, but the idea is it’s supposed to—it’s supposed to stay in the letter of the law of the Flores agreement, but it does not, on its face. So that’s the concern.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the government says 416 children still remain separated from their parents?

CATHLEEN CARON: Right. So, our focus is searching for the deported parents. That’s Justice in Motion’s role in this search. So there’s roughly around 400 parents that were deported to their countries of origin, mostly Guatemala, mostly, and so we are part of a steering committee, through the ACLU Ms. L lawsuit. The steering committee is comprised of Women’s Refugee Commission, KIND, Paul Weiss law firm and Justice in Motion. And we have a defender network of 44 human rights organizations and human rights lawyers in Mexico and Central America that are being mobilized to search for these parents.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the ACLU just said that it turns out that the government has withheld hundreds of phone numbers of parents, numbers they knew well, to make it more difficult to reunite children with their parents.

CATHLEEN CARON: Well, it’s been really difficult, and that new information just shows how it’s kind of intentional infliction of emotional harm and distress on these families, has nothing to do with preventing migration from Central America. This is just a damning policy to hurt a population that Trump’s base—many voted for him because they were anti-immigrant. But it’s made it very difficult.

So, when the court ordered in the Ms. L lawsuit for reunification at the end of June, for the first six weeks it was pretty chaotic, with our on-the-ground team of Justice in Motion Defender Network proactively going out to look for the deported parents. And we were doing advertisements on radio stations. We had set up phone numbers. We had set up emails. And the government was providing scant information, without phone numbers, for us to facilitate the search.

It wasn’t really until August 10th where the judge kind of really laid it down to say, “This six weeks is enough. These children are being harmed, and we need these phone numbers now.” And the steering committee was formed, and things have been more organized since then.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a new video produced by Human Rights Watch with Justice in Motion, your group, about parents who have been deported while their kids remain in U.S. custody. The video features Clara Long of Human Rights Watch and two fathers who were deported from the United States to Guatemala.

MARCELINO: [translated] I was with my daughter. We were holding hands. Then they separated us. They put me in a jail cell, and they brought my daughter to a different jail, as well.

CLARA LONG: Over the past few months, the U.S. government separated thousands of children from their parents at the border. Even though many of those families have been reunified in the United States, in about 360 cases, the kids remain detained in the United States while their parent has been deported back to their home country. We went to Guatemala to try to see if we could find these parents and talk to them about what their experience has been.

PABLO: [translated] We are really suffering right now. My son has already been in detention for three months. He’s a baby, he’s a little kid. He turned 8 years old in there, locked up like a criminal.

MARCELINO: [translated] She was taken at Yuma, Arizona, and I don’t know where she has been since then. We’re worried because she’s all alone. We don’t know how she’s doing, if she’s OK. Nobody knows.

CLARA LONG: When these kids are separated, they go into a system of shelters or detention centers. The conditions vary widely, but, unfortunately, we know that there have been very serious allegations of abuse and mistreatment, including sexual assault, physical abuse and the inappropriate use of psychotropic drugs.

PABLO: [translated] My son told me, “They’ve given me some pills so that I can fall asleep.” We don’t know what they’re giving him, because now he talks differently than before. Now he just says “yes,” “no,” “yes,” “no.” That’s all he says. That’s how he answers me.

CLARA LONG: Every day that goes by for these families is another day of harm. The first and most important thing is that these families need to be reunified immediately. But more than that, there’s a real need for accountability for the family separation policy. The people who devised and implemented these policies need to answer for them.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Clara Long of Human Rights Watch, together with Justice in Motion, put out these videos. Explain this collaboration, and tell me more of these stories and the significance, what these dads are saying.

CATHLEEN CARON: Yeah, the collaboration with Human Rights Watch is a new collaboration and a welcome one and a wonderful one that we hope to continue. So, they also reacted really quickly to help search for the deported parents. So you’ll see one of the—there was a shot of one of our defenders in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, going out and assisting Human Rights Watch as they also helped to identify the deported parents.

So, there’s two stories I’d like to share. You know, one is, they’ve been deemed different—different categories of parents have been kind of deemed ineligible to be reunified with their families. So, one example that our defenders identified and picked up in this process is a woman who left the country because her teenage daughter was targeted to be a sex slave to the local gang, so she took off. And they actually shot at her house. She took off to the United States seeking protection and seeking asylum. When she arrived at the border, she was told that they saw a criminal record in her history. But what they didn’t—failed to ask any questions beyond that—is that that was because she was a domestic violence victim, and it was an act of self-defense. So they told her she was a danger to her daughter, although she had risked crossing Mexico to spare her daughter’s life from being a sex slave to do so. So, that’s a complicated case that we’re working on right now so she can get—because she has a criminal record, she’s going to have a difficult time reunifying with the family.

Another story is a father who left with his 4-year-old son after his cousin was murdered by a local drug gang, so he took off to the United States to seek asylum. He actually asked for asylum at the border. Another kind of part of this issue that you’ll see further down the road is that people were denied credible fear hearings at the border when they expressed fear, you know, as opposed to being mocked—people were actually mocked and denied that ability to seek safety. So, he was detained with his 4-year-old son. They came to take his 4-year-old son away from him. He was screaming and crying, holding onto the pant leg. The father finally demanded that it stopped, and cooperated and put his child in a car and was taken away. So, since then, since the father actually was actively participating, the child feels very abandoned. Every time he talks to him on the phone, he just said, “Why did you leave me here?” with no understanding of what happened. So, I mean, that father deserves a chance to return to the United States and be safe in the United States with his son, not have to be separated, because his choice now will likely be to leave his son in the United States because he’s safer in the United States pursuing his own immigration claim, as opposed to being returned to the country of origin where his life was in threat.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the Trump administration is now—in this rule change, would try to end the Flores agreement that says that kids can’t be held for more than 20 days. Clearly, the Trump administration wants this out of Judge Dolly Gee’s court, who has repeatedly said “no” to extending the time kids can be held in detention, Trump administration wanting it in an appellate court or ultimately the Supreme Court to get their way. Thousands of kids were reunited; this more than 400 have not been. What’s the timeline here?

CATHLEEN CARON: Well, right now, as part of the steering committee under the Ms. L lawsuit, we’re supposed to identify the parents—make contact, now that we have the phone numbers, right? August 10th, we were provided the phone numbers, so children were separated for a long time before the numbers were provided. And it’s not even complete. For 38 of the families, there’s no phone numbers or working phone numbers, so our defenders are really doing on-the-ground very difficult searches to find those parents, because every parent deserves to be told what their options are, to be evaluated for what was the reason for the separation, and for them to make a decision whether they want the child to be returned to the country of origin or they want their child to remain in the United States. So, the Trump administration is desperate to have no boundaries to be able to do what they want with these families.

AMY GOODMAN: Cathleen Caron, I want to thank you for being with us, founder and executive director of Justice in Motion.

When we come back, what will happen in Idlib, Syria? We’ll speak with Rania Abouzeid in Beirut, Lebanon. Stay with us.

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