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Amnesty International has called upon Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to reunite children separated from their fathers as they sought asylum from persecution in Central America.

Despite Department of Homeland Security policies not to split up families, one-year-old Mateo was separated from his father, Jose D.F., under duress when Jose was transferred from the custody of Customs and Border Protection to ICE, while seeking asylum from gang violence and death threats in their native El Salvador. Three other fathers from El Salvador and Honduras were also coerced into surrendering their children to ICE custody at the same time. ICE officials threatened that failing to do so would hurt their cases and that force would be used if they refused, as it was in one case when the father refused to give up his child. After being separated from their children, the four fathers were sent to ICE’s Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, where they remain.

“The US government has defied its own policies in taking these children away from their parents,” said Naureen Shah, senior director of campaigns at Amnesty International USA. “At a time when these children and their families are desperate and frightened for their future, it is especially cruel to forcibly put these children in shelters or foster care, as if they were unaccompanied minors. These families must be reunited and released while their asylum cases are considered. ICE officials must also take steps to ensure this never happens again.”

According to ICE officials, Mateo was taken because Jose lacked identifying documents establishing their relationship. However, Jose had his passport and Mateo’s birth certificate, which both established Mateo was his son. ICE officials also violated confidentiality rules by calling on the consulates of the very countries the families were fleeing from to escape persecution in order to verify paternity.

In addition to calling on DHS agencies to remedy these violations, Amnesty International has asked its 7 million members, supporters and activists worldwide to take action on behalf of the families. The call to action can be found here: https://www.amnestyusa.org/urgent-actions/urgent-action-border-officials-forcibly-separate-families-usa-ua-256-17/