Long Before Trump’s Zero-Tolerance Policy, There Was Another Tactic To Remove Immigrants

In a detention facility outside Houston, detainees are being told they will be reunited with their children if they sign voluntary removal orders.

By Rhonda FanningJune 26, 2018 7:13 am

While it appears that border agents are no longer applying a zero tolerance policy, it’s been a different scene on the other side of the state.

Shannon Najmabadi is the higher education reporter at the Texas Tribune. She has been reporting from a privately-operated U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility 75 miles outside Houston where adult men are being detained.

“We spoke to a man there from Honduras who said he’d abandoned his attempt to get asylum and had agreed to sign one of these voluntary removal orders on Friday – because he was, as he said, desperate to see his six-year-old daughter who had been separated from him,” she says.

Najmabadi says the man claimed other detainees had been offered the same deal to be reunited with their children. In these cases, she thinks different officials are telling the men that they will be reunited with their children at the airport if they sign these voluntary removal orders.

“We had initially thought this might be an outlier case, but it seems like we might have stumbled onto something bigger,” she says. “Another attorney we spoke to said she had heard almost the exact same thing from another detainee – and that other lawyers in the state of Texas had mentioned hearing about similar kinds of offers.”

After the story was published, an administration official confirmed to CNN that detained immigrants are being told they can sign orders to be removed from the U.S. quickly and will be reunited with their children before they are deported. Najmabadi says it seems like it has been a tactic used long before President Trump’s zero-tolerance policy.

“The Department of Homeland Security and another federal agency put out this fact sheet saying that they’ve already reunified more than 520 kids with their parents – and that they have a plan to reunify the remaining kids in their custody,” she says.

In the case of Carlos – the pseudonym for the Honduran man – he was not told how he would be reunited with his daughter. He has met with volunteer attorneys to figure out how they would be able to get his daughter, who they think is being held in Arizona, to him before he is voluntarily removed.

Written by Amber Chavez.