Settlement ends fingerprinting delays that kept migrant kids in U.S. custody for months at a time

Settlement ends fingerprinting delays that kept migrant kids in U.S. custody for months at a time

July 29, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

“The settlement establishes a set of presumptive deadlines for the government to schedule fingerprinting appointments and complete fingerprint processing for parents and sponsors seeking to be reunited with children in government custody: seven business days for an appointment and 10 business days for processing,” a statement said. These changes can’t be reversed by the current or any future administration.

We noted at the time that many children had already been stuck at prison camps for prolonged periods of time even before the policy was implemented. Plaintiffs named in the lawsuit were stuck in U.S. custody for nearly four months because of delays related to the policy.

“I’ll always remember the months when the government kept me separated from my two sons,” plaintiff Blanca said. “There is no greater pain that can be caused than when you separate a child from their mother.” She said that after submitting her fingerprints, she repeatedly asked when the process would be completed. She said that she was always told the same thing, “that the process was slow, and it was not in her hands.”

“My sons suffered tremendously while in custody,” Blanca continued. “I never, never want to go through this again, and I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. It is inhumane.”

The policy’s cruelty was widespread, as intended by the previous administration. “In the fall of 2018, I interviewed children detained in a massive, unlicensed facility where they slept in tents in the desert. Most of them would have been with their families but for the government’s harmful fingerprint policies,” said Neha Desai, senior director of immigration at the National Center of Youth Law. “Their distress, anguish, and sense of hopelessness was palpable. This settlement will help ensure that punitive fingerprint policies never again facilitate this version of family separation.”

The seven- and 10-day settlement “will apply to all children nationally in ORR custody, and the agency will also be required to regularly release reports about their process and results during this period—tracking, for the first time, how long fingerprinting takes across the agency,” groups and attorneys continued.  

In one example, officials had claimed that the average time that kids spent at the now-closed prison camp in Tornillo, Texas, was 25 days—a lengthy time to be separated—when some were actually there for months. One employee with the contractor that was running the place said that more than half of Tornillo’s children were still there because of delays from increased sponsor vetting. We know that even short periods in custody can be traumatizing to children.

“The Trump administration created these policies as another way to punish immigrant families,” said ACLU attorney Stephen Kang. “This settlement aims to keep this from happening again, and serves as notice to the government that it cannot let children cruelly languish apart from their parents or sponsors.”

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