All the immigrant parents brought to ICE detention in Colorado since May under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy are being transferred today to Port Isabel, TX, several sources close to the detainees said Friday.
Once in Port Isabel, they’re expected to be reunited with their children, from whom they’ve all been separated for weeks.
ICE has declined to respond in recent weeks to repeated requests for information about how many separated parents were being held at the ICE facility in Aurora, but attorneys and immigrant advocates estimate the total is anywhere from 30-70.
In late June, a U.S. District Court judge ordered the administration to reunite the more than 3,000 separated families by July 26. That order was upheld last week by another federal judge, who refused a Department of Justice request to extend the deadline.
It was not immediately clear Friday afternoon when, exactly, the parents were being flown to Texas, though one immigration attorney, Astrid Lockwood of The Federal Practice Group, said she had about a dozen clients who she believes left Friday morning, and that it’s possible all “zero tolerance” detainees in Aurora are already in Texas.
Lockwood, who described the family separation saga as the most painful thing she’s witnessed as an attorney, said that while she did learn that her clients and others held in Aurora were being brought to Texas today, she’s had a hard time getting ICE officials to offer specifics on next steps for the detainees.
“I would never say we’ve gotten any assurances at all for my clients,” she said. “But we believe that reunification will happen within today and tomorrow.”
Lockwood said she’s learned that other separated parents held elsewhere in the U.S. are also being sent to family detention centers at the border, though it’s unclear how many of those parents there are.
Sarah Jackson, who runs Casa de Paz — a nonprofit in far northeast Denver that serves as a safe house for undocumented people and their loved ones, through which at least 13 parents held recently in Aurora have recently passed — met Friday morning with Jeff Lynch, ICE field office director based south of Denver.
He informed her, she said, that the parents were being sent to Port Isabel.
Jackson, like Lockwood, has been disturbed by the lack of information ICE has offered to date.
“We’ve been doing so much work here locally to make sure the individuals in detention here are partnered with a lawyer and have community support and sponsorship available if needed,” she said. “Now they’re not here anymore. We’re concerned about keeping in touch with them.”
ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok told The Colorado Independent in late June that it was working on a plan for reunification of the parents held in Colorado with their kids, who were sent from the border to various ICE facilities around the country. But Rusnok hung up the phone when asked for specifics on that plan, and neither he nor his colleagues have responded to repeated follow-up requests for information.
Jackson said she’s skeptical that there is an organized plan at this point.
“I think that there are a lot more questions than there are answers right now about the process after they arrive at Port Isabel,” she said. “I think that it would be safe to say that nobody has a clear understanding of what the next steps look like. It seems to me that decisions are made without having a good plan and without thinking through the ramifications of separating vulnerable people from any kind of support that they had.”
Lockwood said that she’s not celebrating Friday’s development, even though, in theory, it promises that families separated, for two or more months in some cases, will be reunified.
“It’s creating chaos,” she said. “You’re separating people from their attorneys. You’re creating chaos in the courts. Nobody has any guidance.”