ICE Accused of Using Coronavirus Crisis to Launch 'Family Separation 2.0'

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has been accused of trying to exploit the coronavirus pandemic by pressuring immigrant parents to agree to being separated from their children.

Last week, ICE officers presented parents with a choice to either agree to be separated from their children so their offspring could be released from detention or face detention together indefinitely, according to NBC News.

Of the 366 families presented with the choice, not a single family agreed to be separated, the broadcaster reported.

Lawyers representing immigrant families faced with the option said it would be easier for ICE to deport adults out of the country if they were separated from their children.

They further feared that it would be difficult to reunite parents with their children if they did agree to be separated under U.S. custody.

Condemning ICE for suggesting that children be separated from their parents rather than simply releasing families together amid the coronavirus pandemic, immigration advocacy group Families Belong Together accused the agency of trying to launch a "Family Separation 2.0" program.

The Trump administration has already faced widespread condemnation over its "zero tolerance" family separation policy, which saw hundreds of immigrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Families Belong Together chair Jess Morales Rocketto has now said, in a statement shared with Newsweek: "While tens of thousands lose their lives to one of the biggest public health crises of our lifetime, the Trump administration is doubling down on its sadistic treatment of children and families."

"We are not a country that believes in tearing babies away from their parents. Pediatricians, public health experts, and the nation agree that now is the time to lean into our values of care, compassion, and empathy– not cruelty," she said.

In a similar statement published on Twitter, The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) also accused ICE of trying to "take advantage of the #COVID-19 situation in order to separate families again."

"This is family separation 2.0," the organization said. "ICE is using the threat of #COVID-19 to force parents into giving up their children so they can be detained indefinitely."

RAICES then issued a call to Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and his department to "stop Family Separation 2.0 from happening" and instead release immigrant families detained by ICE amid the pandemic.

Let's not forget ICE is taking advantage of the #COVID19 situation in order to separate families again.

That’s why we’re calling on @DHS_Wolf & @DHSgov to stop Family Separation 2.0 from happening. #DontLookAway

Join us. 👨‍👩‍👦 #Families4Families

— RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) May 19, 2020

Since the pandemic began, immigration advocates have been calling for the release of ICE detainees, with a focus on those who are elderly or who have pre-existing conditions that make them vulnerable to suffering serious health consequences if they contract the virus.

ICE has pushed back against calls to release detainees, with the agency fighting court decisions that ordered the release of dozens of people held in custody.

According to ICE data, as of Friday, the agency had released at least 324 detainees as a result of court orders.

On its website, ICE has sought to highlight the past criminal charges or convictions that some of the detainees released by the agency have had, including homicide, rape and aggravated assault.

"There is a growing number of individuals who have been released as a result of judicial orders," the agency has said on its website. "These are non-discretionary releases on the part of ICE, and as a result, they do not necessarily undergo the same public safety, flight risk, and/or medical analysis."

ICE is "actively litigating many of these court decisions," the agency notes. "However, many of the individuals ordered released by federal courts have extensive criminal histories and pose a potential public safety threat," it states.

ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Family detention
People demonstrate in Washington, D.C. on June 28, 2018, demanding an end to the separation of migrant children from their parents. The Trump administration has since revoked the widely-condemned policy. Now, however, the government is being accused of trying to push similar efforts to separate families amid the coronavirus pandemic. Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty