- A new court filing from the ACLU revealed that that the Trump administration is still separating migrant families, despite officially ending the separation policy in June 2018.
- According to the ACLU, data given to them by the government shows that more than 900 migrant children were separated from their parents in the last year.
- The ACLU said that many of the separations were based on “minor criminal history” such as traffic violations, decades-old infractions, and “allegations or arrests without convictions.”
- They also said that many of the separations were based on “highly dubious allegations of unfitness” like being HIV positive or eating at a restaurant that gang members also ate at.
ACLU Court Filing
Court documents filed Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) revealed that the Trump administration has separated more than 900 migrant children from their parents in the year since the administration officially ended the separation policy.
The ACLU filing asks that the court come up with more specifically outlined standards for separating families to ensure compliance with a federal ruling from June 2018, which required the Trump administration to stop separating migrant children from their families.
The same month, Donald Trump himself issued an executive order to end family separations except in cases where parents may pose a risk to their child.
However, the Trump administration is still separating families according to government data given to the ACLU as part of the court order.
“The government is systematically separating large numbers of families based on minor criminal history, highly dubious allegations of unfitness, and errors in identifying bona fide parent-child relationships,” the court filing said.
The ACLU also said that the original court ruling from June 2018 specified that children could be separated from parents who had criminal histories.
However, that did not include immigration offenses, and as the document says “The Court made clear, however, that it was not blessing separations based on any criminal history, regardless of gravity.”
“Rather, the Court’s decision relied on traditional due process and child custody standards, which permit the drastic step of separating a child and parent only where the criminal history is so significant that it bears on whether the parent is a danger to the child or is an unfit parent,” it continued.
The ACLU filing goes on to say that the government is “separating young children based on such offenses as traffic violations, misdemeanor property damage, and disorderly conduct violations. Some of the separations are for offenses that took place many years ago. And some are for mere allegations or arrests without convictions.”
They also added that families have been separated based on the governments “assertion that the parent does not appear to be doing a proper job parenting” or “that the parent has not sufficiently proven his or her relationship to the child.”
The ACLU additionally noted that the children being separated from their families were increasingly younger than before. According to the filing, 481 children, which is more than half of those separated, were under the age of 10.
Around 20 percent of separated children were under five-years-old, which is a huge increase from last year when only four percent of children separated were under five.
Examples of Criminal Histories
The ACLU filing provided numerous examples of children being separated from their parents for reasons they believe violate the court’s previous ruling.
Of the 911 separations, 678 were because alleged criminal history.
According to the ACLU, the data on family separations the administration gave them consisted of lists with the name of the parent who was separated from their child, and “a cryptic, summarized reason for the separation—often just a few words or a line of text—that states the allegations against the parent.”
“Sometimes the entry will simply be ‘due to parent’s criminal history,’ with no further explanation,” the document added.
The ACLU went on to describe the lists, saying they provided minimal information and did not include key data, like how old the convictions are, and noting that only 179 cases provided “reliable date information,” adding “the most recent dated charge was on average 10 years old.”
They gave specific examples, like one child who was separated from their parent because of a “‘false police report / hit and run’ conviction from 26 years ago.” Another parent was separated from their child “based on a 3-day jail sentence for misdemeanor assault from 20 years ago.”
Additionally, despite the fact that the court had explicitly decided that parents could not be separated from their children because of immigration offenses, “[the] list of separations reports hundreds of cases that include such convictions as part of the reasons for separation, including cases where the unlawful entry or reentry conviction was combined with other minor offenses, such as DUIs or traffic offenses.”
Examples of “Unfit” Parents
The ACLU also gave multiple examples where parents who had no criminal records were separated from their children because they were deemed “unfit.”
In one example, a dad was separated from his three young children because he had HIV, and despite requests, the government still never explained why being HIV positive made the dad a threat to his children.
Another example said that a 5-year-old was separated from their mother who broke her leg at the border “and was briefly hospitalized for emergency surgery.”
In another case, a father in a detention center was separated from his one-year-old daughter because he did not want to wake up her to change her wet diaper.
Other parents were separated from their children because Border Patrol agents did not believe they were actually their parents.
In one case, Border Patrol separated a father from his three-year-old daughter because his name was not on her birth certificate, despite the fact he had other proof he was her dad. The agents took away his daughter and refused to give him a paternity test.
Lawyers eventually intervened and were able to confirm he was the father, but during the time they were separated his three-year-old was sexually abused in government care.
The court documents also said that 44 parents were separated from their children because of alleged connections to gangs.
However, these included examples like a mother who was separated from her two children because she “ate at a restaurant frequented by gang members.” Another mother was separated from her child because she was seen leaving a store “while a group of gang members were being arrested nearby.”
One mother had her child taken from her because she had been abused by a gang member. Those are just some examples from the 218-page filing.
The ACLU’s filing comes just a few weeks after acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said in testimony before a House committee that family separations were “rare” and made only “in the interest of the child.”
“This is carefully governed, it’s overseen by a supervisor when those decisions are made,” the acting secretary said.
However, the ACLU disagrees. Their filing says that the court must come up with more specific standards because the current ruling seems to give too much power to Border Patrol agents to decide who should be separated.
“They’re taking what was supposed to be a narrow exception for cases where the parent was genuinely a danger to the child and using it as a loophole to continue family separation” Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney in the family separation lawsuit and deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in an interview.
“What everyone understands intuitively and what the medical evidence shows, this will have a devastating effect on the children and possibly cause permanent damage to these children, not to mention the toll on the parents,” he added.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Washington Post) (Fox News)
Fire Officials Warn of Viral TikTok “Outlet Challenge”
- Massachusetts firefighters are warning of an electrical “outlet challenge” seen on Tiktok that can cause fires or electrocution.
- The challenge involves partially inserting a cell phone charger into an outlet and trying to produce a spark by touching the exposed prongs with a penny.
- In two local schools, teens started a fire or torched outlets and are now facing charges of arson, attempted arson, and malicious damage to property.
“Outlet Challenge” Warning
Massachusetts fire officials are warning of a dangerous electrical “outlet challenge” spreading across TikTok after at least three reported incidents raised concerns.
The challenge involves partially inserting a cell phone charger into an outlet, then trying to produce a spark by touching the exposed prongs with a penny.
Massachusetts Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey issued a letter to all of the state’s fire chiefs on Monday warning of the viral social media challenge that has lead to copycat behavior. In the memo, Ostroskey said that his office had already received reports of two instances where teens tried to recreate the stunt.
“The result is sparks, electrical system damage, and in some cases fire,” Ostroskey wrote.
He advised fire officials to reach out to local news outlets, school officials, and parent organizations to make them aware of this trend, writing, “Alert them to this challenge, advise them to, not only look for signs of fire play like scorched outlets, but to have conversations about fire and electrical safety with tweens and teenagers.”
Charges Against Teens Involved
One of the incidents Ostroskey cited resulted in damage to an outlet inside a home. The other sparked a fire inside Westford Academy. The spark at Westford Academy created smoke that set off the school’s fire alarm, local authorities reported.
The student responsible for that incident is now facing charges, including arson and malicious damage to property, Westford Police Captain Victor Neal told CNN.
Meanwhile, NBC Boston reported that two students at Plymouth North High School were caught attempting the challenge twice in a matter of minutes inside a classroom on Tuesday.
Firefighters found two scorched outlets and a phone charger with a penny fused to the prongs, according to Plymouth Fire Chief Edward Bradley. There were no injuries, but the school’s superintendent Gary Maestas said the students involved could face serious consequences.
“We are working with the Plymouth Police and Fire Departments to fully understand the scope of this issue and pursue charges to the fullest extent of the law,” Maestas wrote in a statement.
Plymouth police said the two 15-year-old male students face charges of attempted arson and malicious damage to property under $1,200.
Dangers of the Stunt
“I don’t think students comprehend the reality that they can be electrocuted and killed, or start a fire,” said Chief Bradley.
Aside from starting fires or facing potential electrocution, Bradley said the challenge could also cause damage to electrical wiring behind walls, which could allow fires to burn within the walls undetected and endanger everyone in the building.
“Social media elevates it,” Bradley added. “They see it online, they see someone do it, they start laughing, they run away and no one gets hurt and they assume the same will happen when they do it, so they think it’s funny to do it in a classroom.”
“Parents need to talk to their children and tell them if you see this stuff, don’t try to imitate it.”
Virginia Senate Votes in Favor of ‘Red Flag’ Gun Bill
- Virginia’s Senate passed a “red flag” law, which allows law enforcement to temporarily take firearms away from an individual who is deemed a threat to themselves or others.
- The vote was close and fully along party lines, with 21 Democrats voting in favor and 19 Republicans voting against it.
- Democrats believe the law will prevent gun violence in the state, but Republicans see it as a threat to the Second Amendment.
- The vote happened just a few days after a large, and mainly peaceful, pro-gun rally was held in Virginia’s capital, Richmond.
- The bill still has to go to the state’s House of Delegates, which has a slight Democratic majority.
Red Flag Law Passes Senate
Virginia’s State Senate narrowly passed a bill Wednesday allowing law enforcement to temporarily confiscate firearms from someone deemed a threat, commonly referred to as a ‘red flag’ law.
The tight vote was strictly along party lines, with all 21 Democrats in the Senate voting yes, and 19 Republicans voting no. The bill, SB 240 specifically states that a law-enforcement officer or attorney can apply for an emergency substantial risk order. This order would “prohibit a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm.”
If that order is issued, a judge or magistrate can issue a search warrant allowing for firearms to be temporarily removed from that person. Democrats in Virginia have long been fighting for gun-control measures to be passed. They stand behind SB 240 because they believe it will lead to fewer mass shootings and other forms of gun violence in general.
State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32) tweeted that she believes this bill will prevent crime.
Sen. George Barker (D-39) first introduced the bill. According to the Washington Post, he said it moved the state in “a positive direction” and the law could “protect lives and reduce violence in Virginia.”
State Democrats are not alone in supporting this measure. Nationally, red flag laws generally have a lot of support from the public. According to an August 2019 study from APM Research Lab, Americans are generally in favor of these kinds of legislation.
The study found that 77% support family initiated orders and 70% support police initiated orders. Even when it comes to political parties, both a majority of Republicans and Democrats support it. Gun owners also support it, though by a lesser margin, with 67% of the demographic supporting family initiated orders and 60% supporting police initiated ones.
Still, Virginia’s Senate Republicans were strongly opposed to the measure. They believed it was a heavy infringement on peoples’ right to bear arms.
“Each legislator that votes in favor of this bill in my opinion is a traitor to Virginia, a traitor to the Second Amendment and a traitor to our constitutional freedoms,” said Republican Sen. Amanda Chase (D-11).
The NRA called SB 240 an “unnecessary attack on Second Amendment rights.”
Pro-Gun Rally and What Happens Next
SB 240 is one of many gun control laws Virginia is working on passing. This Senate vote came just a few days after a major pro-gun rights rally happened in Richmond, Virginia’s capital city.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency ahead of Monday’s event, and guns were not allowed at the rally, largely over fears that there could be a repeat of what happened in Charlottesville in 2017.
According to reports, about 22,000 people attended the rally, which remained largely peaceful. No violence was reported, though some extremist groups were present.
At the rally, several of the gun-rights activists spoke out against the gun control legislation floating through Virginia. One clip from the rally, shared by BuzzFeed News reporter Andrew Kimmel went viral. In it, Richard Vaughan, Sheriff of Grayson County in Virginia, said he and his county would not enforce enacted gun control legislation.
This is Sheriff Richard Vaughan of Grayson County, VA. “If the bills go through as proposed, they will not be enforced. They are unconstitutional.” This is not true, according to the Exec. Dir. of the VA Assoc. of Chiefs of Police… #Richmond2ARally pic.twitter.com/mjpQupE6of— Andrew Kimmel (@andrewkimmel) January 20, 2020
“If the bills go through as proposed, they will not be enforced,” he said. “They are unconstitutional. We support and uphold the constitution of the United States and the constitution of Virginia. And that’s what we’ll do.”
SB 240 is not set in stone yet, though. The bill still has to go to Virginia’s House of Delegates, which has a Democratic majority but only by a slim margin.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (WRIC ABC 8)
Michelle Carter, Who Encouraged Her Boyfriend’s Suicide, Released From Prison Early
- Michelle Carter was released early from prison for good behavior after serving 11 months of her 15-month sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
- Carter was charged in 2017 after encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself through text messages and phone calls as he contemplated suicide.
- Her release comes about a week after the US Supreme Court said it would not hear her appeal to overturn her conviction.
Who is Michelle Carter?
Michelle Carter, the Massachusetts woman who encouraged her boyfriend’s suicide when she was 17-year-old, was released from prison Thursday, months ahead of schedule.
The now 23-year-old was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2017 after making a series of texts and calls to 18-year-old Conrad Roy III, convincing him to carry out plans to take his own life. Roy died by suicide in 2014 when he poised himself with carbon monoxide inside of his pickup truck.
According to investigators, Carter suggested multiple ways for Roy to end his life and at one point even pushed him to return to his car when he was having second thoughts.
Carter was released from the women’s center at the Bristol County House of Corrections after serving 11 months of her 15-month sentence. She had previously been denied parole in September but according to the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, she has now earned enough credit for good behavior and attending jail programs to qualify for an early exit.
“Ms. Carter has been a model inmate in Bristol County,” a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “She has attended programs, had a job inside the jail, has been polite to our staff and volunteers, has gotten along with other inmates, and we’ve had no discipline issues with her whatsoever.”
Carter’s released comes about a week after the US Supreme Court said it would not hear her appeal to vacate her conviction.
During her 2017 sentencing, the judge ruled that her “virtual presence” made her responsible for Roy’s death. Her legal team fought against the verdict, but Carter ultimately began serving her prison sentence last February after Massachusetts’ highest court refused to overturn her conviction.
Carter’s lawyers then filed a petition to the Supreme Court last July, arguing that it was against her First Amendment rights to free speech to convict her “based on words alone.” Her lawyers also questioned whether the conviction was constitutional in regard to the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to see Carter’s case left her conviction intact and while she has now completed her time behind bars, Carter still has five years of probation to serve.
In response to the news of her release, Roy’s family said, “news of the Supreme Court denying to hear her case far out shadowed the news of her early release. Her time in jail, no matter how long or short, will not change the outcome of a guilty verdict which is thankfully being upheld.”
“July 12, 2014, our lives were forever changed, and the world lost a beautiful soul. Michelle Carter is the reason for that,” the statement continued. “She was the only person who could have saved him. She didn’t, in fact she was on the line with him as he was dying, moaning in pain, gasping for last breaths. Who could do that?”
“She did, and we’ll never really know why.”