NYCLU lawsuit charges Trump Administration Using New Fingerprint and Screening Requirements to Delay Family Reunifications
NEW YORK – A Honduran mother living in Queens, NY was reunited with her 14-year-old daughter Friday evening after weeks of delay due to a new Trump administration policy requiring everyone seeking to sponsor children out of the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement to submit fingerprints for a background check, including the children’s own parents. The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on October 1 to compel the daughter’s release, arguing that imposing the new fingerprint requirement on so many more people causes unnecessary delays that leave children languishing in detention, and serves only to facilitate immigration enforcement against the children’s families.
“The Trump regime is heartlessly using immigrant children to entrap their family members in its deportation dragnet. Requiring parents to submit fingerprints and then wait weeks or even months for the results does nothing to help reunite kids and everything to fuel the ICE deportation machine and sow fear in immigrant families,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “We are thrilled that Iris and her daughter are finally home together.”
The 14-year-old girl, referred to in court documents as S.E.V., fled violence in Honduras and traveled alone to the United States to reunite with her mother, Iris Griselda Cruz Paz, who lives in Queens, New York and won asylum in 2017. S.E.V. has been detained by ORR at Children’s Village in Dobb’s Ferry, NY since July 30. Her mother submitted all documents requested of her in early August, and provided digital fingerprints on August 21. But then the process stalled, as her fingerprints and background check remained pending for over six weeks — with no explanation for why it was taking so long. After NYCLU informed the government of the lawsuit, Ms. Cruz Paz was told that she had passed the fingerprint background check and needed to do a home study. The home study took place Thursday, but the government claimed it needed to keep S.E.V. in custody still longer. Instead, federal judge Paul Crotty ordered the S.E.V. released to her mother on Friday afternoon.
“The law requires the Office of Refugee Resettlement to release children promptly, but instead the agency is now letting months pass as kids like S.E.V. remain detained,” said Paige Austin, NYCLU staff attorney. “The government is now requiring many more people to be fingerprinted and taking much longer to do it—all in service of enabling ICE to target parents and their household members for immigration enforcement.”
Parents and advocates have long been concerned that applying to sponsor children in ORR custody would expose them and other family members to immigration enforcement. In June, ORR began requiring fingerprint checks for all parents and their household members following a memorandum authorizing the sharing of fingerprints with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In September, a Trump administration official testified to Congress that ICE has arrested and begun deportation proceedings against 41 people who came forward to sponsor migrant children since July.
In New York, dozens of children in ORR custody have parents ready to sponsor them but are stalled awaiting fingerprint processing. In August, the NYCLU threatened to sue over fingerprint delays, forcing ORR to reunite an 8-year-old boy with his Honduran mother, Eilyn Carbajal Pineda.
Ms. Cruz Paz, who is pregnant and due in a few weeks, was desperate for her daughter to be released before she gives birth. S.E.V. cried through all of their phone calls, begging her mother to get her out of the shelter facility, where she felt like a prisoner.
“I would go to the moon and back to get my daughter out of detention, because I am her mother and I love her and I know she is suffering,” said Ms. Cruz Paz in a court declaration before her daughter’s release. “The longer she is detained, the more I worry she will think I have lied to her that I have done everything I can and that I am trying my best to get her out. I want to bring her home with me to give her stability and show her that not everything is bad, not everyone in the world wants to hurt her.”
Due to the new fingerprint requirement for parents and other policies enacted by the ORR that prevent or delay the release of children from custody, the number of children in ORR’s custody has ballooned to its highest level in history. News outlets have recently reported that the Trump administration is dealing with overcrowding by sending thousands of children from state-licensed facilities, including shelters in New York, to a “tent city” in Texas. In June, the NYCLU won a preliminary injunction in a class action case challenging another cause of months of delay, striking down a policy requiring the personal review of ORR director Scott Lloyd to release certain groups of children to approved sponsors.
In addition to Austin, NYCLU staff on the case include associate legal director Christopher Dunn, staff attorney Jordan Wells, investigator Paula Garcia Salazar and paralegals John Paraskevopoulos and Ingrid Sydenstricker.