Immigrant parents whose children were taken from them by the Trump administration are reportedly being told they have two choices: leave the country with their children, or they can leave without them.
Or, they can simply return to their home country and leave their children here.
The new instructions to agents do not allow parents who were separated from their children under President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" policy to reunite with their children while they await a decision on asylum, a protection sought by thousands of migrant families fleeing violence in Central America.
Advocates say that even migrants who have already passed their initial asylum screenings are being presented with the form. "We are seeing cases where people who have passed credible fear interviews and have pending asylum claims are being given this form," said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who is leading a class action lawsuit for family reunification.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have been instructed to read the following form to detained parents, instructing them to sign next to one of the options:
"I am requesting to reunite with my child(ren) for the purpose of repatriation to my country of citizenship," or "I am affirmatively, knowingly, and voluntarily requesting to return to my country of citizenship without my minor child(ren) who I understand will remain in the United States to pursue available claims of relief."
By forcing parents to make an immediate decision – leaving the country with or without their children – Trump administration officials are essentially denying immigrants their right to ask for asylum.
Asylum law dictates that immigrants should be allowed to make an asylum claim before a judge even if they have been given an order of deportation.
"A child should never be held hostage to force a parent to relinquish their legal right to seek asylum," said Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).
ICE spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea maintained the form is only meant to be given to those who have been handed a final order of removal:
"An individual who has received a final order of removal has already been given the opportunity to make a claim of fear about returning to his or her country of citizenship," Elzea said. But she did not say whether those claims had finished being adjudicated before parents are given this form.
"Alien parents who are ordered removed can elect to be removed with or without their children. Neither choice has any bearing on the alien's eligibility to apply for protections available to them under the law," Elzea said.