Thousands of immigrant children across the country separated by the Trump administration are being needlessly and illegally kept from reuniting with their parents and other loved ones, according to a national class-action lawsuit filed by the NYCLU on Tuesday.

That’s because the Trump administration instituted lengthy fingerprint background checks earlier this year.

These new fingerprint requirements and background checks add weeks and sometimes months to children’s detentions. Family members must first wait weeks for appointments to have their fingerprints taken at one of the limited sites the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has set up. Then they have to wait weeks – and in some cases months longer – for results to be processed.

Delays have meant that the total number of migrant children in government custody has ballooned to its highest level in history. To accommodate the swelling population, the agency is now transferring hundreds of children, from shelters around the country to a “tent city” in the Texas desert that is not licensed by state child welfare authorities.

In short, the Trump administration concocted new rules to keep children in custody, away from their loved ones and is now shunting them away in camps in the desert.

Worse yet, new requirements are playing into the Trump administration’s deportation agenda. Changes in policy this spring now allow ORR to share the identities and fingerprints of children’s parents who come forward to take in children with ICE and Customs and Border Patrol.

These changes now allow ORR and ICE to work together to target the families who come forward to get their children out of custody. In September, an ICE official testified to Congress that at least 41 people who came forward to take in children were detained by ICE.

These new policies hurt children and families in at least two ways: firs,t by delaying the children’s release until the fingerprint checks come through and, second, by discouraging parents and other relatives from sponsoring their children to begin with. Now, despite fear for their children’s wellbeing and safety in custody, many may hesitate to come forward out of fear that giving ICE access to their background information could get them or their loved ones deported.

These delay tactics have serious impacts on children, many of whom have already experienced serious trauma before they came to the U.S.

The longer children are detained the more likely they are to suffer irreversible psychological harm, relive trauma, fall behind in school, and, for those who turn 18 in custody, risk being transferred to an adult facility where they face deportation proceedings. But the Trump administration is keeping them locked up as part of its relentless attack on immigrants.

Norma Duchitanga, whose daughter is detained at the Nueva Esperanza Southwest Keys shelter in Brownsville, Texas told us these policies are destabilizing children’s lives.

“The children that come here are not coming for fun, they’re running from abuse or abandonment or crime,” Duchitanga said. “Children are losing time in school, being re-traumatized and living in fear. All of this will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”

In recent months, the NYCLU helped two parents reunite with their children after they waited more than six weeks for their fingerprints to be processed. In both cases, the government quickly released the children when the NYCLU either took legal action or threatened to do so. The Trump administration claims that the fingerprint checks are to protect children, but the fact they released them so quickly after we threatened to sue reveals this policy is about punishing immigrant families, not about safety.

The government is using people’s children to entrap family members in its deportation dragnet. It cannot be allowed to lock kids up for months, while their families desperately wait to take them home. 

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The New York Civil Liberties Union is a state affiliate of the ACLU

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