The administration disclosed, in a court filing, that the government deported 471 migrant parents who had been separated from their children at the U.S-Mexico border.
But Washington’s announcement directly contradicted Homeland Security Secretary (HSS) Kirstjen Nielsen, who testified before the HHS Committee, saying: "There was no parent who has been deported, to my knowledge, without multiple opportunities to take their children with them."
New York Democrat Kathleen Rice had quickly rubbished Nielsen’s denial before the administration put out the new separation data. “This is a lie,” Rice posted on Twitter. “Lying to Congress under oath is a felony.”
Rice's fellow Democrats, meanwhile, took the opportunity to note that the Homeland secretary's "zero-tolerance policy" had resulted in about 3,000 parent-child separation cases.
"No amount of verbal gymnastics will change that she (Nielsen) knew the Trump administration was implementing a policy to separate families at the border," Democratic Rep. Bernie Thompson said.
Nielsen also disclosed medical examinations performed on the minors. "As you know, sir, very unfortunately, because of the increase in violence, at I.C.E. ...we have to give every girl a pregnancy test over 10," Nielsen stated while addressing the committee.
Over eight months ago, a San Diego judge had issued an order to the United States government, giving instruction for the reunification of separated families. The parents are offered either reunification with their children in the parent’s new location or a waiver which allows their children to remain in the United States and seek asylum.
Details of a class action filing revealed that more than 2,800 children were separated from a parent while crossing the Mexican border and then placed in U.S. custody following the deportation of their parents.
In June 2018, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw issued a preliminary injunction to stop the unlawful separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border. However, a recent government report claim that all 2,800 children had been reunited with their parents or released to a sponsor before Sabraw’s legislation was issued.
Despite the numerous challenges, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been leading the effort to locate deported parents outside of the United States.
“We’ve had very difficult conversations with [migrant] parents this week,” ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt had said last year. “As much as they want to be with their child, and it’s heartbreaking, they feel it’s too dangerous.”
Sabraw is currently reviewing a request, by the ACLU, to expand the initial scope and circumstances surrounding separated families covered by the order. The U.S. government is fighting to have the request dropped, citing the effort to discern the whereabouts of the families and also arguing that searching for the deported parents should not be included in the litigation.