06:26 GMT +323 May 2019
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    Migrant children make their way inside a building at Casa Presidente, an immigrant shelter for unaccompanied minors, in Brownsville, Texas, U.S., June 23, 2018.

    Trump’s ‘Number One Priority’ is Deporting Families, Separated Or Not

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    On Monday, the Trump administration announced that it would be unable to comply with a court order to reunify all migrant children who were separated from their families at the border between April 19 and May 31.

    Judge Dolly Gee of the US District Court in Los Angeles has also rejected a request made by the Trump administration to enable the detention of migrant children for more than 20 days.

    ​David Bennion, a US immigration lawyer and executive director of the Free Migration Project, told Radio Sputnik's Loud & Clear Tuesday that the main goal of US President Donald Trump's administration is to deport families, whether they are reunited or not, and "short circuit" the rightful asylum process.

    "Defendants seek to light a match to the Flores Agreement and ask this Court to upend the parties' agreement by judicial fiat," Gee wrote in the ruling Tuesday.

    "It is apparent that Defendants' Application is a cynical attempt… to shift responsibility to the Judiciary for over 20 years of Congressional inaction and ill-considered Executive action that have led to the current stalemate," she added.

    In April, the US Department of Justice announced its zero-tolerance policy, promising to pursue criminal charges to the fullest extent of the law against those who cross the US-Mexico border without correct documentation or fail to seek asylum at ports of entry.

    More than 2,000 immigrant children were forcibly separated from their parents between April 19 and May 31, prompting harsh criticism from rights groups and lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties.

    Two weeks ago, Trump — following significant political blowback from the wildly unpopular practice of separating children, including infants, from their parents — signed an executive order that purportedly stopped the separations.

    However, the Trump order only directed US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to seek changes in the 1997 Flores v. Reno ruling in order to detain children longer.

    Under the agreement, the US cannot hold immigrant children for more than 20 days
    even if they are with their parents. However, according to the settlement, the Trump administration is "forced" to separate children from their parents because once parents have been criminally prosecuted for illegal entry, the children have to be sent to the US Department of Health and Human Services as "unaccompanied immigrant children" since they cannot be detained longer than 20 days, per Flores.

    "The total number of children [that have been separated from their parents] is around $3,000, but that's a rough estimate. The government's own figures are always changing and to be honest, it hasn't been a priority for them to keep accurate records of who the children are, who the children's parents are and where the parents and children are for the purpose of family reunification, because their number one priority is to deport families regardless if that means separating them. So, it's no surprise this has been a chaotic mess," Bennion told hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.

    "It's a huge problem that children who are not in court with their parents are expected to represent themselves in what is an incredibly complex and high-stakes legal proceeding. Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed right to free legal counsel for anyone in immigration proceedings, including young children. And so, at least when a child is with a parent, he or she is better able to access counsel — although the parents, again, are not receiving free counsel," Bennion explained.

    "To expect a child to represent themselves in a life-and-death situation when sometimes they don't even know what country they are from [is unfair]. Reunifying the families doesn't solve the problem, because the main goal of the government is to deport these reunited families and short circuit the rightful asylum process," Bennion continued. 

    On Tuesday, the federal government was unable to meet the deadline imposed by Southern District of California federal judge Dana Sabraw to reunite more than 100 children under the age of five who were separated from their parents at the border.

    The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a lawsuit filed against the Trump administration Tuesday that at least 20 children who were supposed to be reunited with their families will not be reunited in time.

    According to Bennion, asylum cases are very difficult because the US law governing such cases have become more hostile to these types of claims. 

    "Even under the best circumstances, asylum cases are very difficult, especially when we have Sessions actively trying to undermine existing asylum law, for example, [with regard to] victims of domestic violence," Bennion told Radio Sputnik.

    "Once you are detained, it is much harder to obtain counsel and have an attorney who is able to go out to remote detention centers and adequately prepare cases. The judges also have incredible discretion as to denying or granting asylum cases and the denial rate, which is perfectly tabulated across the country, ranges from 3 percent to 100 percent," the attorney said.

    "Many of the asylum-seekers are immigrants coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. We see the violence there, we see the gender-based and gang-based violence and its a life or death situation, which is what is driving these people to come to the US. They should qualify for asylum, but our government is, unfortunately, using every trick in the book to press them to give up their claims or make it so they can't win," Bennion concluded.


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