The Illegal and Systematic Practice of Coercing Separated Families Must Be Investigated

August 23, 2018

The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy led to not only to the forcible separation of thousands of children from their parents, but the extreme duress and coercion of separated families while in DHS custody. The American Immigration Council (Council) and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) demand an investigation into the illegal and systemic practice of coercion used by DHS officials on the separated parents.  

The Council and AILA jointly filed an administrative complaint with the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), on behalf of numerous parents who were separated from their children and who were subject to explicit and implicit coercion while in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) custody.

The complaint highlights the cases of thirteen separated parents who describe in detail the coercive tactics used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials and the trauma of separation and its impact on their ability to access the asylum process.

One mother describes the coercive environment and abuse that she suffered at the hands of government officials following her separation from her 5-year old son:

They said they would take us to El Pozo or “the well” as punishment if we kept crying about our children. … They said I would be punished because I refused to eat in the mornings. … They would tell me that they were going to also put me in El Pozo. I did not know what that was. The women told me it was an ice cold room that was dark with no windows.

This illegal behavior resulted in many parents signing documents they did not understand, and in some cases, relinquishing their right to be reunified with their children. Further, the cases illustrate the coercive environment created by government officials which resulted in extreme duress on the part of the parents.

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