After outraging Americans and the international community by holding thousands of children hostage in an effort to push through President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policy, the Trump administration is again using children who have been taken from their parents as pawns—to get detained immigrants to agree to their own deportations and drop their asylum cases.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a fact sheet over the weekend stating that detained parents who sign a so-called “voluntary departure order”—paperwork that simply expedites deportation—can be reunited with their children.
“A parent who is ordered removed from the U.S. may request that his or her minor child accompany them,” according to DHS—but critics and immigrant rights advocates have noted that presenting this possibility to parents who have been put through a traumatizing ordeal, is akin to kidnapping children and then using them as bait to get immigrants out of the country.
“We have no reason to believe that [voluntary deportation] is the fastest way for parents to be reunited with their children,” Efrén Olivares, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, told reporters on Sunday. “Putting them in that position is not a voluntary [deportation]; it’s being obtained under duress.”
MSNBC‘s Jacob Soboroff reported that many parents do sign the paperwork after being told that doing so will bring them a step closer to seeing their children—even if it means the family will be sent back to the country they left in the hopes of seeking asylum, often fleeing violence and political unrest.
“I was told I would not be deported without my daughter,” one 24-year-old father told the Texas Tribune. “I signed it out of desperation…but the truth is I can’t go back to Honduras; I need help.”
The man was hoping to revoke the order and appeal a court’s decision that he was not eligible for asylum.
Other parents have opted not to sign the orders, putting themselves at risk for being deported on their own—and potentially never seeing their children again.