WASHINGTON— Earlier today Congressman Henry Cuellar released a statement addressing the separation of migrant families while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody.
Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Thomas Homan announced that the White House would adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward anyone apprehended crossing into the US illegally by Border Patrol. Those caught would be referred to the Department of Justice, and prosecuted for the misdemeanor of illegal entry.
This would also apply to parents who have entered the US illegally with their children. Once transferred to criminal custody, their children get treated as “unaccompanied minors,” and sent into the care of a separate government department.
Cuellar assures his constituents that many factors are taken into consideration in cases where migrants are separated from their children. “I remain concerned about the separation of migrant families while in CBP custody. I want to ensure that CBP adheres to policies that maintain family unity to the greatest extent possible, absent a legal requirement or a safety concern," declared Cuellar. “Because of the language I secured in the FY18 Omnibus Appropriations bill, CBP reported that in FY17, the U.S Border Patrol (USBP) separated 1,065 families out of a total of 75,622 immigrant families. CBP takes necessary factors into account when determining grounds for a child’s separation: agents assess the legitimacy of a guardian, additionally taking into account each family member’s overall health. They also review the adult’s criminal history and determine if a child is a victim of trafficking. Of the 703 separated in Fiscal Year 2018 through May, 191 families were separated due to illegitimate guardianship and 72.8% were separated due to concerns regarding the safety of the child."
“I do not support any measure that does not take the best interest of the child into consideration— the data above shows that only a small percentage of families are being separated, and when they are, this happens in specific cases where CBP acts in favor of the child’s wellbeing," added Cuellar. “I want to make it clear that this is a result of our broken immigration system. Smugglers and human traffickers exploit loopholes in our immigration laws that provide an incentive for migrants to put themselves in extreme danger to illegally cross our borders. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle towards closing loopholes and improving our immigration system.”
According the the office of Congressman Cuellar, the congressman has helped secure language in the last few Omnibus Appropriations bills directing ICE to avoid separating families whenever possible, to train field officers on mechanisms to reunite families, to improve detention facility conditions, facility conditions, and to ensure the safety and well-being of vulnerable populations.