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US splits asylum seeker families

29 October 20200 comments

As the US presidential election approaches, issues around the Trump administration’s migration and asylum policies are bubbling to the surface.

This week, a series of damaging revelations have emerged although the effect they will have on the voting intentions of Trump supporters is another thing.

Lawyers appointed by a US federal court revealed in documents this week that they have been unable to find the parents of 545 migrant children who were taken from their families in the in the first year of the administration.

In just less than half the cases, the parents have been located but not successfully contacted; in the remainder, they have not even been found.

Activists say this raises the prospect that hundreds of families separated by the US Government may never be reunited.

The mass state-orchestrated displacement came from the Trump administration’s decision to separate migrant parents from their children for criminal prosecution as a means of punishing them for legally seeking asylum in the US.

The move has been widely seen as a means of deterring others from following suit. Activists claim the government also obscured the details of the earliest separations for years, potentially negating efforts to reunited families.

In 2018, a federal court in San Diego ordered the reunification of some 2,700 families separated as part of the administration’s so-called zero tolerance policy.

The children separated from their parents under the official zero tolerance policy in 2018, most of whom remained in detention, were reunited with their parents through extensive efforts by lawyers and advocacy groups.

But by the time the same efforts began for the families separated the prior year, the children had been released to relatives or foster families and the parents had been deported to Mexico or Central America.

A recent report by the Justice Department’s inspector general said that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other top administration officials orchestrated the family separations for punitive purposes.

Meanwhile, reports have emerged that US immigration officers allegedly tortured Cameroonian asylum seekers to force them to sign their own deportation orders, in what lawyers and activists describe as a scramble to get African migrants out of the country in the run-up to the elections.

Many of the Cameroonian migrants in one detention centre refused to sign, fearing death at the hands of Cameroonian government forces responsible for widespread civilian killings, and because they had asylum hearings pending.

Reports say detainees were threatened, choked, beaten, pepper-sprayed and threatened with more violence to make them sign.

Some were put in handcuffs by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, and their fingerprints were taken forcibly in place of a signature that amounted to the asylum seekers waiving their rights to further immigration hearings and accept deportation.

Reports say a plane carrying 60 Cameroonian and 28 Congolese asylum seekers was quietly flown out of a Texas airport on October 13 to take them back to the home countries they had fled.

Activists claim the charter plane did not release a flight plan. It was tracked by immigration rights group Witness at the Border, which said it stopped in Senegal, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and then Kenya before flying back to Texas.

The Cameroonian deportees were from the country’s English-speaking minority, which has been the target of abuse, including extrajudicial killings.

Most of the deportees on the flight had lodged claims that they had suffered detention without charge and torture at the hands of the Cameroonian military, and had relatives who had been killed.