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Federal complaint filed over 'staggering' number of migrant family separations in San Diego

Homeland Security says keeping families together a top priority
Posted at 5:55 PM, Dec 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-19 20:55:21-05

SAN YSIDRO, Calif. — A new complaint filed with the Department of Homeland Security alleges that migrants are routinely separated from their spouses, adult children, and other relatives after leaving federal custody.

A “staggering” 1,081 instances of migrant family separations have been documented in San Diego since September 13th, according to the federal complaint filed by four non-profit groups.

“We've had a number of really heart-wrenching cases,” said Meghan Zavala, data and policy analyst with Al Otro Lado, the non-profit that tracked the separations.

The group along with the ACLU, Jewish Family Service of San Diego and UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy allege some migrants have been separated for months from their loved ones. They give several examples in the federal complaint.

In one instance, they say a couple was separated for 49 days.

The complaint says the husband and wife from Bolivia were taken into custody in October and separated during processing.

Customs and Border Protection released the man at the San Ysidro Transit Center without his wife. “After weeks of regularly returning to the transit center in hopes of reuniting with his wife, he learned she was transferred to ICE custody in Texas,” the December 14th complaint says.

The migrant advocates say the family separations are a result of migrant street releases.

Since September, CBP and Border Patrol has dropped off tens of thousands of migrants at transit centers throughout San Diego County. The street releases come as shelters are overcapacity following a surge in illegal crossings.

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said the government has prioritized keeping families together at every step of the immigration process.

“Due to legal restrictions or operational considerations, there are instances where family units will not be processed or detained together. In cases where families are separated after processing, and we become aware of the issue, we take proactive steps to bring such family members back together.”

Earlier this month, the federal government settled a class action lawsuit with the ACLU over the separation of parents and children at the border during the Trump administration. The government is barred from reenacting the zero-tolerance policy over the next eight years.

The settlement doesn’t cover family encounters involving relationships other than a minor child and their parent or legal guardian.