Lawyers report that immigration agents are telling separated parents that to see their kids, they must agree to voluntary deportation.
According to lawyers who spoke to HuffPost; the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are telling detained migrant parents that to be reunited with their children they must sign a voluntary deportation form.
The paperwork, which HuffPost reviewed, gives migrants the option to be reunited with their children before leaving the U.S. or to be deported without them, and it is addressed to parents who have been given “final orders of removal” ― meaning they have been rejected from seeking asylum.
Read the form here:
But attorneys say that their clients who are still going through the asylum process have been pressured to sign the form and that ICE agents are misleading parents into believing that voluntary deportation is the only way to be reunited with their kids.
“We’re hearing that people were told [by immigration agents], ‘You don’t have the option to seek asylum and be reunited with your children,’” said Gracie Willis, an attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). “You either have to option to be deported with your child or without your child.”
Although Trump signed an executive order to halt family separation on June 20, and a recent court ruling requires families to be reunited within 30 days, there are still more than 2,000 parents who have not seen their kids. Lawyers say it is highly manipulative for immigration officials to ask separated parents who are desperate to reunite with their children to sign a deportation form.
Jennifer D. Elzea, an ICE spokesperson, said the form is only being circulated to migrants with final orders of removal. “As is stated on the very top of the form, this form only applies to parents with a final order and who are part of a specific class action suit,” she wrote in an email to HuffPost. “This form has absolutely nothing to do with those who have pending asylum claims.”
But HuffPost spoke with lawyers who say immigration agents brought the form to their asylum-seeking clients.
On Friday, Willis said, an ICE official asked one of her clients in a Georgia detention center to sign the form (since then, she’s confirmed that four more of her clients have been presented with the same paperwork). The father, who has been separated from his 7-year-old son for over a month, is awaiting his asylum hearing and has no plans to return to a country where he faces political persecution. While the form says that it must “be read to the alien parent in a language that he/she understands,” she said the officer spoke to her Spanish-speaking client in English.
Willis said that, thankfully, the man showed the form to one of her colleagues at SPLC, but the attorney is worried that other parents are being persuaded by the promise of reunification.
“I can imagine that the sort of desperation you would feel to see your child would lead you to make decisions about your case that you might not otherwise make,” she said.