Al Otro Lado, ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, Jewish Family Service of San Diego, UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy Lodge Complaint to U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
SAN DIEGO (Dec. 14, 2023) – In the midst of significant increases of family separations at the San Diego border region, Al Otro Lado, ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLUF-SDIC), Center for Immigration Law and Policy (CILP) at the UCLA School of Law, and Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFSSD) filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) today with grave concerns about the number of families separated during and after asylum processing at the southern border.
ACLUF-SDIC, CILP and JFS have filed complaints with DHS about similar concerns in the past. Today’s CRCL complaint focuses on family separations stemming from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s ongoing practice of releasing high volumes of recently processed migrants to transit centers and makeshift nonprofit organization installations throughout San Diego County since mid-September 2023 – without providing basic necessities, including food, water, and shelter, medical screening or stabilization, or onward travel coordination. Al Otro Lado has documented 1,081 unique instances of separations among adult family members since mid-September 2023.
- In 19 confirmed cases, families continue to be separated after CBP transferred family members to long-term ICE custody, where they remain as of the date of this complaint.
- For some families, including in two confirmed cases, the separations will potentially be permanent because of the deportation of a family member.
- Fortunately, some families, including in 279 confirmed cases, have been reunified since the separation. However, the subsequent reunification does not undo the harm of the separation, particularly in instances when it was prolonged. Of the reunified families, some were separated for as long as 48 days before reunifying.
The complaint notes that the recent settlement agreement in Ms. L v. ICE that concerns parents and guardians forcibly separated from minor children during the Trump Administration, does not remedy nor address ongoing separations among adult spouses and partners, parents and their adult children, adult siblings and other separations among family groups, such as those documented in today’s complaint.
According to Erika Pinheiro, executive director of Al Otro Lado: “Through November, CBP has street released more than 42,000 vulnerable people, subjecting them to unnecessary risk of serious harm in numerous ways, including through family separation. We have documented over 1,000 unique instances in which families were subjected to traumatic separation of various lengths and times – none of which are necessary or acceptable.”
The four leading organizations are calling for an immediate investigation by CRCL into the systemic problems leading to the family separations and urge CBP to adopt recommendations to prevent the ongoing separations and the irreparable harms they cause.
While CBP has reportedly issued updated guidance meant to preserve family unity during border processing, the groups noted that CBP has yet to release that guidance publicly, preventing meaningful accountability and monitoring. The groups further note that recent reports, including those documented in today’s complaint, indicate the agency continues to depart from its own guidance.
The groups provided seven straight-forward, yet critical recommendations to remedy the harms caused by ongoing family separations and to prevent them from occurring in the future, including recommendations that CBP:
- Preserve family unity by adopting a more inclusive definition of what constitutes a family group;
- Document and link all relationships among family groups;
- Streamline processing pathways among all members of a family group to ensure families are released together to their networks of care in the U.S.;
- Communicate to all adult members of the family group the whereabouts of any missing family member(s) and facilitate communication with any family group member(s) who remain in DHS custody;
- Expand the priorities of the Biden Administration’s Family Reunification Task Force to include the investigation and prevention of ongoing incidents of family separation;
- Permanently fund infrastructure that facilitates the safe and humane reception of people seeking asylum along the southern border to reduce the potential occurrence of family separation; and,
- Ensure consistent on-the-ground coordination with respite service providers to ensure the swift, safe release and transportation of people seeking asylum from DHS custody to the care of shelters and respite centers.
“We have seen too many cases in which part of a family will be in our care at the San Diego Rapid Response Migrant Shelter Services with no knowledge of where their other family members are. At best, they are somewhere else in the county. There are some instances where people have been detained in other states. The most devastating instances are when a family member has been deported with little hope for reunification,” said Kate Clark, Esq., senior director of immigration services at JFSSD. “Our respite sheltering system is based on dignified, person-centered care – this means keeping families together. Too often we find ourselves making every effort to reunite families who are suffering from inhumane and cruel separations.”
“Border processing that disregards the sanctity of family unity compounds trauma and jeopardizes due process. We have repeatedly documented harrowing accounts of ongoing family separation and its destructive consequences, but CBP has continued to allow them to occur. How many horror stories will be enough for the agency to finally take meaningful action?” said CILP Senior Staff Attorney Monika Langarica. “We look forward to CRCL’s prompt investigation into this matter and urge CBP to adopt the necessary recommendations to ensure that families do not continue to suffer at the hands of these harmful practices.”
“The federal government’s reckless practice of uncoordinated mass releases of asylum-seeking migrants into San Diego County has significantly increased the number of family separations occurring in our region. In the absence of meaningful government support for these individuals – who have a legal right to be here – local NGOs groups are providing critical humanitarian assistance, including documenting separations and assisting with family reunifications,” said ACLUF-SDIC Immigrants’ Rights Senior Policy Advocate Felicia Gomez. “The ACLU fights to ensure that keeping families together is a priority consideration in U.S. immigration policy and practice. This cruel disregard for preserving family units is antithetical to our shared values as a nation. We the People believe that families, in all their forms, belong together.”
For more information about Al Otro Lado, visit www.alotrolado.org. For more information about the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, visit www.aclu-sdic.org. For more information about Jewish Family Service of San Diego, visit www.jfssd.org. For more information about UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy, visit law.ucla.edu/academics/centers/center-immigration-law-and-policy.
Editor’s Note: This is the third time in as many years that immigration rights organizations have raised major concerns about family separations to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Previous actions:
We thank you in advance for bringing awareness to the fact that family separations continue, despite these efforts and related court rulings and guidance.
Interviews with legal, shelter, and data experts, in English and Spanish, are available. Interviews with impacted families/individuals are currently not available, but please contact us if you’d like to be added to the list if interviews are possible in the future.