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Women's Refugee Commission and Immigrant Rights Advocates Demand Civil Rights Investigation into ICE Raids that Targeted Sponsors of Unaccompanied Children

On December 6, 2017, the Women’s Refugee Commission and seven other immigrant rights organizations* filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and Office of Inspector General on behalf of some of the 400 people swept up in a DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “surge initiative” from June to August 2017. The operation sought information about the immigration status of parents and other relatives who came forward to sponsor unaccompanied children. Officers then used that information to locate or lure family members to ICE offices, where they were arrested and detained. The complaint  details how ICE officers misrepresented their objectives and role within the sponsorship process, as well as coerced parents and family members in order to detain them and frustrate the reunification process.

WRC and the other signing organizations consider that these practices undermine U.S. laws governing the treatment of unaccompanied children, including the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, the intent of the Flores Settlement to ensure there reunification on unaccompanied children with their parents, as well as individuals’ due process rights. The operation also contravenes U.S. obligations under international and domestic refugee law.

Regarding the underlying basis of the complaint, Michelle Brané, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission emphasized in the joint press release, “Stripping children of the support of their parents or sponsors who provide for them while they wait for their asylum claims to be heard is bad policy. More importantly, it also endangers children – by leaving them potentially without a caretaker, they are more vulnerable to exploitation by predators, including smugglers and traffickers. To use children as bait and use misrepresentation and vulnerability to accuse parents who are trying to save their children’s lives of smuggling is an intentional misapplication of protection laws and damaging to children and families. ICE’s actions are intended to interfere with family unity and prevent children from reaching safety.”

The organizations are calling for an investigation of civil rights violations against eight individuals whose stories are described in the complaint. In addition to investigating the allegations documented in the complaint, immigrant rights advocates call on DHS to cease enforcement operations targeting caregivers of unaccompanied immigrant children, and to stop interfering with safe placements and child reunification efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. The complaint asks the DHS Inspector General and Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to hold individual agents accountable for unlawful or improper conduct and to release the results of their investigations publicly, along with recommendations for reform.

*Signing organizations:

National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice), and Make the Road New Jersey.

Read the complaint here.