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ICE Tries To Deport Families Denied Asylum Under Trump Policies Struck Down By Courts

A group of families faced deportation Friday after being denied asylum under Trump administration policies that have since been invalidated by federal courts.

Two Haitian families at the Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania and 24 Latin American families at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, have been fighting for the opportunity to seek asylum for more than a year. A federal court order had prevented their deportation as a lawsuit continued, but it was vacated earlier this week.

Immigration Customs and Enforcement began deportations for six Guatemalan and six Salvadoran families out of airports in San Antonio and Louisiana Friday, according to Amy Maldonado, an attorney representing them in a federal lawsuit. By the time the families were put on planes, the USCIS Houston Asylum Office decided to reevaluate the cases upon request from attorneys. Thirteen of the 26 families will be released, but the fate of all of the families is unclear.

“We know at least one family was deported. We have heard that families have been removed from the plane,” Maldonado said.

An ICE spokesperson said the families had "taken advantage of all available due process" and that there "is currently no legal impediment to their removal."

"Nevertheless, after working closely with USCIS, ICE removed several aliens today after careful review of their cases and we will continue to process additional removals when appropriate," the spokesperson said in a statement.

Maldonado said the asylum office found credible fear in 13 families’ claims and gave them notices to appear before an immigration judge, which means they will be released. This included seven of the 12 families ICE tried to deport, but four other families’ asylum claims were once again rejected, Maldonado said.

“Some people were deported today and others will be deported in the near future,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado said if they win their federal lawsuit, they could request for the federal government to bring the families back to seek asylum under the new Biden administration. But she fears it may be too late.

“The problem is for those families who are deported and are going into hiding, we don't know if we'll be able to get them back,” Maldonado said.

The families, including 28 children and some as young as six years old, say they fear violence in their home countries. Some have faced rape, assault and threats of violence from gangs or their government as well as poor treatment while in detention, according to advocacy groups.

“They asked me why I am afraid to return to my country. I’m afraid that the gangsters will hurt me, that they will kill me and my mom,” Juan, an 11-year-old, said in a statement shared by Amnesty International.

Maldonado said they meet the criteria for asylum, but the Trump administration has raised the bar for asylum-seekers.

“We have a 7-year old who was threatened with death for being indigenous. We have families who were assaulted and harmed. Families whose all of their other family members in their home countries are now dead because of their political opinions” Maldonado said. “Some of these families chose to stay in detention for a year and a half, to try to fight to stay here for safety. You don't do that if you're just, you know, wanting to move to the US.”

Federal courts struck down some of the Trump administrations’ policies such as requiring asylum-seeking families to first apply for asylum in a country they traveled through and allowing Border Patrol officers to act as asylum officers. But the federal government refused to allow the 26 families to try to claim asylum again.

“And were they applying for asylum today as opposed to when they did, they wouldn’t be affected by these policies,” said Charanya Krishnaswami of Amnesty International. “So all we’re asking for is that they be given the chance to seek the safety that they never had.”
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María Méndez reports for Texas Public Radio from the border city of Laredo where she covers business issues from an area that is now the nation’s top trade hub. She knows Texas well. Méndez has reported on the state’s diverse communities and tumultuous politics through internships at the Austin American-Statesman, The Texas Tribune and The Dallas Morning News. She also participated in NPR’s Next Generation Radio program while studying at the University of Texas at Austin. At UT, she wrote for The Daily Texan and helped launch diversity initiatives, including two collaborative series on undocumented and first-generation college students. One of her stories for these series won an award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She spent the last year reporting for The Dallas Morning News as a summer breaking news intern and then as a fellow in the paper’s capital bureau in Austin. She is a native of Guanajuato in Central Mexico.