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Responding to today’s hearing before U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee on enforcement of the Flores Settlement Agreement during COVID-19, Denise Bell, researcher for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International USA said:

“The hearing is a searing reminder that the government has doubled down on its refusal to release families together. ICE has the power to release families, but simply refuses to act on it. What’s new is that ICE is trying to cast itself as the protector of family unity. It’s obvious that no parent should ever be asked if they’d release their children from detention without them. ICE’s disingenuous arguments can’t hide its cruel intention to keep families detained together indefinitely. It’s well past time for ICE to solve the very problem is has created by releasing families together from detention.

“Families must not be presented with the false and coercive choice of separating from their children or staying in family detention indefinitely. Such an impossible situation is heartless during normal times – during a pandemic, it’s sheer monstrosity. These detention centers are dangerous and deadly. They’re petri dishes for COVID-19 and they are no homes for any child.

“Nearly a hundred families are trapped, longing for the freedom that ICE could provide, if only it wanted to. Nothing is stopping ICE from freeing these families together except the sheer cruelty of discouraging people seeking safety from finding it here in this country.

“It is heart-wrenching for all our communities ready to welcome home families to freedom. Children should be able to grow up with their families, friends and communities. Instead, ICE has chosen to make it as difficult as possible to release these children with their parents so they can be together and safe.”

Amnesty International USA is calling on ICE to exercise its legal authority and discretion to release families together on parole and into alternative-to-detention programs, as it has done historically.

Background and context

This month, Amnesty helped free a family from ICE detention in Dilley, Texas, following advocacy efforts by the family’s attorneys and pressure from Amnesty International USA. Their release demonstrates that ICE has the power and the discretion to release families together from detention amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Amnesty continues to call on ICE to free Ana* (22) and Victoria* (4), detained in Dilley, Texas, for nearly a year after fleeing Honduras for their safety.

Last month, 120 NGOs advocating for immigrant and refugee rights called for ICE to free all families being held at family detention centers, documenting how family separation produced by coercive “choice” violates multiple human rights, including the right to family unity, the right to liberty, and the requirement to prioritize the best interests of the child.

In May, Amnesty International USA launched a briefing, “Family Separation 2.0: You aren’t going to separate me from my only child”, documenting how ICE has weaponized its public health response to COVID-19 to punish and deter people seeking safety.

In 2018, Amnesty International documented the effects of the Trump’s administration so-called “zero-tolerance” policy, forcibly separating thousands of asylum-seeking families, in order to deter and punish those seeking safety in the United States. Most of the families Amnesty International interviewed were separated without being informed of why. In some of the cases documented by Amnesty International, the practice of family separations satisfied the definitions of torture under both United States and international law. The human rights organization called on the Department of Justice to initiate a criminal investigation into the practice of family separation and the harm it caused, holding accountable all those who authorized it.

More information: New hearing confirms ICE chooses family separation over family unity (5/22/20)

Media contact: Mariya Parodi, [email protected]