The Trump administration’s choice for immigrant families in detention: Separate or risk Covid-19

President Donald Trump made a pledge in June 2018 to stop separating families in immigration detention, seemingly bringing an end to a policy that was designed to deter migrants from attempting to cross the southern border, and that ignited protests nationwide.

“We’re going to keep families together but we still have to maintain toughness or our country will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don’t stand for and that we don’t want,” Trump said, signing an executive order stating that it is the “policy of this administration to maintain family unity” in immigration detention except in cases where parents pose a danger to their children.

But two years later, it’s clear that the Trump administration never fully renounced family separations.

Immigrant advocates found that hundreds of children were separated from their parents and other family members in the months following Trump’s executive order. In at least some cases, immigration officials were using minor immigration violations, such as reentering the US without authorization, and unsubstantiated allegations of gang affiliation, to claim that parents posed a danger to their children and to justify separating them.

These kinds of separations have largely come to a halt, particularly as the Trump administration has shut down the asylum system at the southern border in recent months.

Now, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the administration is setting itself up to carry out what immigrant advocates call a new kind of family separation. This time, it’s pressuring parents already detained within the United States to voluntarily separate from their children by presenting them with what the administration has called a “binary choice.” Either allow their children to be placed with relatives or a foster family in the US while the parents remain detained, or stay together as a family in indefinite detention and risk contracting Covid-19.

By Nicole Narea for Vox
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