More Than 900 Migrant Children Have Been Separated From Their Families Over Past Year

LOS ANGELES — More than a year after President Trump officially ended migrant family separations at the southern border, immigration authorities continue to routinely separate families for reasons as minor as a parent not changing a baby’s diaper or having a traffic citation for driving without a license, according to new documents filed Tuesday in federal court.

More than 900 children have been removed from an adult — usually a parent — with whom they arrived at the southern border since June of 2018, according to tallies provided by the Department of Justice to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging the separations.

“The administration is still doing family separation under the guise that they are protecting children from their own parents even though the criminal history they are citing is either wrong or shockingly minor,” said Lee Gelernt, with the A.C.L.U.’s Immigrants Rights Project. “This is just circumventing the court’s order.”

The new numbers were filed with Judge Dana M. Sabraw in San Diego as part of the court’s continuing supervision of the family separation issue. In its motion on Tuesday, the civil rights group asked the judge to clarify a set of standards for such separations that would ensure that children are taken from their parents only when there is evidence that the parent is a genuine danger to the child, or is unfit to provide care.

Family separations began occurring in large numbers in the spring of 2018 under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border enforcement policy, which called for nearly all adults who entered the country illegally to face criminal prosecution. Any children accompanying them were placed in shelters or foster care. Migrant families often ended up hundreds or thousands of miles apart for weeks or longer.

After Mr. Trump terminated the policy and Judge Sabraw issued an order to reunify all separated families, cases of separations dropped precipitously. But they have recently been climbing rapidly, Mr. Gelernt said, with a total of 911 separations over the past year.

The latest separations are mainly based on crimes committed by the parent, according to the new documents, but A.C.L.U. lawyers argue that many of the violations are as minor as traffic tickets.

“Right now, the government can separate based on any criminal history, regardless of the severity, and based on subjective criteria,” Mr. Gelernt said. “We want them only separating in specific circumstances.”

The separations were central to the Trump administration’s early efforts to discourage migrant families from trying to enter the United States after traveling over land through Mexico. Arrivals of families decreased while the policy was in effect, and increased again substantially over the fall and spring.

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