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July 21, 2019

Lawsuit: Trump Administration twiddles its thumbs while fingerprints keep kids in government facilities

November 7, 2018
In a photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows people who’ve been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas. (AP)

The Trump Administration’s fingerprints are all over a federal policy change keeping hundreds of immigrant kids in federal custody, according to a new lawsuit.

The 23-page class action Manhattan Federal Court suit blames the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Department of Health and Human Services and HHS Secretary Alex Azar for a new fingerprinting requirement that keeps families divided due to unnecessary red tape.

“All I ask is that there is justice for these children and that the government do what’s right for them,” said Norma Duchitanga, 36, of Spring Valley, Rockland County — whose daughter remains held in a Brownsville, Texas, facility.

“The children that come here are not coming for fun,” she continued. “They’re running from abuse or abandonment or crime. Staying detained is traumatizing all these children.”

According to the lawsuit, hundreds of kids are now in custody — and they are more likely to suffer “irreversible psychological harm, relive trauma, fall behind in school,” said New York Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Paige Austin.

Those held until they turn 18 run the risk of possible deportation rather than family reunions.

The six unidentified plaintiffs are all minors who entered the United States across its southern border. All had parents or other relatives already in the U.S., and would typically be shipped from the detention center to live with family pending resolution of their cases in immigration courts.

The process moved quickly, with custody granted fairly quickly — parents, for example, did not need to submit to fingerprinting. Everything changed on June 7, 2018, when the ORR made a drastic and ultimately delaying decision for the release of kids in its custody, the lawsuit said,.

According to the suit, fingerprinting is now mandatory for all sponsoring parents along with all of their household members. But the ORR wasn’t equipped to handle the sudden influx, and appointments for fingerprints took weeks to line up as kids remained locked up.

A pair of Guatemalan sisters, ages 14 and 16-years-old, remain separated from their father as the wait for his fingerprint review stretches into its fourth month. Duchitanga’s daughter came from Ecuador to live with her mother in early October.

Duchitanga was told the New York state waiting list stretched across two months. The average custody time in New York state has also doubled, and the total number of kids in ORR custody “balloon(ed) to its highest level in history,” the lawsuit charged.

An email for comment for ORR was not returned Wednesday.

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