California residents will likely recall that President Joe Biden vowed to eliminate many of Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies during his 2020 election campaign. One of the most controversial Trump-era policies was a process that separated migrant families soon after they entered the United States. On Dec. 14, advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Al Otro Lado filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Liberties that accuses the current administration of doing the same thing.
According to the advocacy groups, more than 1,000 migrant families have been separated at the U.S. border crossing between Tijuana and San Diego since September 2023. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents separate men from women and children after processing migrants at open-air camps, but some children are not reunited with their families. The advocacy groups claim that children are often released at different times to their parents, and some of them are sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities.
The complaint filed with the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties also criticizes the CPB for not doing more to reunite families. ICE allows migrant families to use a locator tool to search detainee records for family members, but the CPB does not provide this kind of access. The complaint has attracted media attention, but it may not lead to changes in immigration policy. This is because all the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties can do is make non-binding recommendations to federal agencies.
President Biden has been criticized for not doing enough to stop migrant family separations. The current policy does not refer adult migrants for prosecution and place children in the custody of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department as was the case during the Trump administration, but advocacy groups claim that thousands of families are still being separated.