A recent decision to stop prosecuting parents who come across the border illegally will officially end the separation of children from their parents. What officials aren’t sure about is what to do with these families once they arrive.
Research shows that families who are released on their own recognizance often disappear, never to be seen again, and it isn’t always possible to return them to their own country of origin. To fix the problem, the Department of Justice is arguing for the right to detain immigrant families together for longer periods of time.
• Few people want children separated from their parents, but the problem is that parents often must be detained for long periods before having an immigration hearing. That time frame can be months or even years long.
• A 1997 law pushed onto the table in 1997 by a California state judge set limits on how long the government can detain or imprison immigrant children. Its original intention was to address unaccompanied minors by ensuring they weren’t detained for any longer than 20 days.
• However, that law changed in 2015; it now protects unaccompanied minors and children who cross the border with parents who are detained. This leaves organizations like the H.H.S. in a difficult situation; they can’t release the parents, but they can’t detain the children, either.
• A government filing obtained by NBC News outlines the request and makes it clear that the DOJ believes it is better to detain children with their parents, rather than facing separation. “The emergency currently existing on the Southwest border requires immediate action,” it reads, asking the courts to immediately “address this urgent problem.”
• It isn’t yet clear whether the court will approve the request, or even how it might play out. Certainly, there are some situations (such as nursing mothers with infants) where keeping families intact is best. But there are other scenarios where separation is really the best option in the interests of the child.
• If the courts reject the request, the DOJ plans to take it to the Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, and if necessary, the U.S. Supreme Court.