Asylum law dictates that immigrants should be allowed to make an asylum claim before a judge even if they have been given an order of deportation. Immigration rights advocates say forcing parents to choose immediately between leaving the country with or without their children means they are effectively prevented from asking for asylum.
“A child should never be held hostage to force a parent to relinquish their legal right to seek asylum,” said Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).
In a June 26 decision, U.S. Judge Dana Sabraw of the Southern District of California ruled that the government must reunify the separated parents from their children, but made no stipulation that parents must be allowed to remain in the U.S. with their children while they wait for a judge to hear their asylum claim — a process that can take years.
The form U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are directed to read to detained parents instructs them to sign next to one of two lines: “I am requesting to reunite with my child(ren) for the purpose of repatriation to my country of citizenship,” or “I am affirmatively, knowingly, and voluntarily requesting to return to my country of citizenship without my minor child(ren) who I understand will remain in the United States to pursue available claims of relief.”
The agents are instructed to read the form in a language the immigrant understands, which usually means Spanish, but it can be hard to find Americans who know the indigenous languages spoken by many migrants.