Border agents separated three girls who traveled with their father from Honduras to the US to claim asylum because he is HIV positive, immigration attorneys told Quartz.
The girls—age 11, 12, and 14—crossed the US border with their father in Eagle Pass, Texas in November 2018. Immigration officials there made the determination to permanently separate them from their father, and they have not seen him since, said Christie Turner, the deputy director for special programs at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a nonprofit that helps migrant children.
According to an interview the father conducted with KIND, the US official told him that he “had been separated due to his HIV positive status,” Turner said. KIND is representing the girls as they seek asylum.
The father was placed in an ICE detention center from November 2018 until February 2019, and then deported back to Honduras. His daughters were split up between two shelters in Texas, where they remained for months before being released to relatives in New York City. The girls’ mother died of AIDS before they left Honduras.
A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to stop separating asylum-seeking children from their parents in most cases in a June 2018 ruling. The exceptions include when a parent is “unfit or presents a danger to the child.”
Defendants and their officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys, and all those who are in active concert or participation with them, are preliminarily enjoined from removing any Class Members without their child, unless the Class Member affirmatively, knowingly, and voluntarily declines to be reunited with the child prior to the Class Member’s deportation, or there is a determination that the parent is unfit or presents a danger to the child.
A spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, the Homeland Security agency that includes Border Patrol, said she was checking on the particular case but referred Quartz to additional separation guidelines that say children should be separated from a parent when the they have “a communicable disease.” She emailed Quartz:
Separation of adults and children may occur to ensure the safety of the child when the following factors are present, which is in accordance with TVPRA and the more recent Ms L case:
· Parent or guardian presents a danger to the child;
· Parent has a criminal history;
· Parent has an outstanding criminal warrant;
· Parent has a communicable disease;
· Fraudulent claim of guardianship; and
· Smuggling narcotics at the time of entry, or other criminal activity related to the entry resulting in the adult being criminally charged.
But in 2010 US Citizenship and Immigration Services removed HIV positive status from the list of communicable diseases that bar immigrants from entry into the US.
Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) immigrants’ rights project, said an HIV positive status “does not automatically make the parent a danger or unfit and cannot—standing alone—justify separation.” The ACLU has asked the US government for more information on the case, but isn’t getting timely answers, he said.
The family said it fled Honduras because one of the girls had been stalked and sexually harassed by a suspected gang member. The Trump administration has tried to deter Central Americans seeking asylum at the US border with draconian policies, including separating families and forcing most asylum seekers into detention facilities ahead of their court hearings. As a result, thousands of kids have been separated from their parents, some permanently.