Refugees from Mexico and Central America wait to see if they’ll be allowed to enter the U.S. Photo by Chris Stone

Migrant advocates in San Diego called Tuesday on the U.S. government to end separations of asylum-seeking families at the U.S.-Mexico border, which they say are still occurring despite recent practices of “rolling back harmful border policies” instituted by previous administrations.

The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, along with Jewish Family Service, said they have encountered 19 families between January and May that underwent “varying degrees of separation” while detained by border officials upon entering the United States.

In their letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the organizations describe instances of children separated from parents, pregnant women separated from the fathers of their children, and grandparents from grandchildren.

The organizations asked that Mayorkas direct border agents to stop the separations and recommended policy changes aimed at correcting what they allege are an “uneven application” of policies like Title 42, a Trump administration policy that blocks entry into the U.S. on the basis of potential health risks.

The organizations say that under Title 42, the COVID-19 pandemic was used as a pretext to bar people from gaining asylum and that the expulsions have continued under the Biden administration.

“Callous border enforcement that disregards the sanctity of family unity among people who have fled harm in search of protection compounds trauma, jeopardizes due process and risks permanent separations marked by international borders,” said Monika Y. Langarica, immigrants’ rights staff attorney for the ACLUF-SDIC. “It’s past time for DHS to end heinous policies that enable separations, including Title 42 expulsions, and adopt humane practices that welcome people with dignity.”

The organizations outlined recommendations for DHS that include immediately halting Title 42 expulsions and adopting a new definition of what constitutes a family unit to prevent further separations among family members traveling together.

“Family units come in all shapes and sizes, and our border policies must reflect that,” said Kate Clark, senior director of immigration services for JFS. “Every day, we hear the horrific stories of persecution and violence that asylum seekers are fleeing and the possibility of being separated from family members adds to the crippling fear and trauma they face as they seek safety in the U.S. These stories drive our commitment to a more just system and make clear there is still work to be done.”

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