Despite assurances from federal immigration officials that children would be separated from their families only under extreme circumstances, at least six such separations have occurred since June 2018 solely because of an immigrant parent’s marijuana possession conviction, according to a new ACLU court filing.
The organization’s federal court motion outlines more than 900 cases of family separations since a judge ordered the Trump administration last year to end the practice except in limited, serious situations. The civil rights group pointed to the cannabis possession cases as examples of administrative overreach and asked the court to determine whether such actions were justified.
“It is shocking that the Trump administration continues to take babies from their parents. Over 900 more families join the thousands of others previously torn apart by this cruel and illegal policy,” Lee Gelernt, ACLU’s lead attorney in their family separation suit, said in a press release about the motion, which was filed on Tuesday. “The administration must not be allowed to circumvent the court order over infractions like minor traffic violations.”
Beside the six marijuana possession-related separations, there were an additional six separations related to drug possession convictions.
Though ACLU’s motion didn’t detail all cases involving cannabis possession alone, the organization did describe two instances where children were apprehended in cases that were related to marijuana offenses.
For example, a five-year-old was removed by immigration officials in October 2018 because the father “had a 2001 conviction for carrying a concealed knife and for sale of marijuana.”
In another case, a two-year-old was separated from her mother in March 2019 due to the parent’s arrest after she was allegedly coerced to deliver cannabis to “an imprisoned gang member who was ordering subordinate gang members to stalk, menace, and threaten” her.
“Rather than deliver the marijuana to the gang member,” the filing says, she “surrendered the drugs to Salvadoran authorities and pleaded for help from guards at the jail. Instead of helping her, government officials arrested and prosecuted her.”
She spent 17 months in pre-trial detention and, after explaining “the circumstances of her arrest to a judge,” was found guilty of simple possession and sentenced “to time served plus community service.”
Many Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly raised concerns about the standards under which federal immigration authorities have taken children from their immigrant parents. Last month, the head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was asked point blank during a hearing whether parents convicted of cannabis possession alone should be subject to separation.
Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan declined to directly answer the question and described such instances as “rare,” arguing that the process is “carefully governed, by policy and by court order.”