Federal contractors working to reunite families separated at the border asked about the religious affiliation of at least two immigrant women seeking to get their children back, according to court documents and an attorney involved in one of the interviews.
The women, both currently living in the Boston area, were recently separated from their children under President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy. Both of the women are asylum seekers, and one has already been reunited with her daughter.
…“Both of the families we’re working with are Christians,” Clark said. “But what if they weren’t? Are we saying now you can’t be reunified with your own child if you don’t share the religious preference of this particular vendor who runs these detainment centers for children?”
…According to Clark, court documents filed on behalf of one of the women and an attorney for the other, the questions about religion came up during phone interviews with caseworkers responsible for determining whether the two mothers were suitable sponsors for their own kids.
…The woman, identified only as W.R. in her complaint, alleges in the case that in June she was instructed to fill out a “Family Reunification Packet” and was asked by a caseworker from BCFS, a Christian non-profit that serves as another government contractor, about her religious affiliation.
“The case worker’s very first question to W.R. was whether she is religious, and if so, what religion she practices,” according to the complaint. “The case worker then asked W.R. whether she was Christian and attended church and how often. W.R. replied that she is religious and attends church regularly, the case worker responded, ‘Great!.’”
The complaint says W.R. was then asked a range of questions by the caseworker, from her marital status to how she would “discipline” her son.
“W.R. answered all questions without objection, because she feared that any objection would jeopardize or further delay A.R.’s release,” the complaint states.
…Throughout the process of applying to be reunited with her child, W.R. was identified as the “sponsor” for her son, according to her lawsuit. The BCFS caseworker also referred to her as a “sponsor” during a phone interview, according to the court filing.
“We have to start treating these parents as parents,” Clark said. “We separated them from their children, and we have to do everything we can to bring them back together as quickly as possible. And asking a religious test to receive your own child back, are we saying that if you are not Christian you may not have your child returned to you? I find that shockingly — ‘inappropriate’ wouldn’t even begin to cover it — it’s just shocking that we would ask that question of parents.”
…W.R. was told that in order to complete her reunification paperwork she would need to be fingerprinted at a specific location in Massachusetts, more than 50 miles away, before her reunification case could be evaluated. The lawsuit states W.R. offered to have fingerprints taken at a US Citizens and Immigration Services site in Boston, but was told that she could not go there.
Clark said Gonzalez-Garcia was also initially told to travel from where she now lives in the Boston area to a specific site in New Jersey for fingerprints and would have to bear the cost of the travel. Both women, the lawmaker added, had already had fingerprints taken at the border. Asked what the justification was for traveling to a specific site for the fingerprints, Clark said, “We could never get a clear answer on that.”
“Nobody can tell me where the policy is from. I’ve asked everyone,” Clark said. “Can you send me the policy that says these moms need to be re-fingerprinted even though … Border Patrol has them, and why we can’t be sharing that information to get this process moving? And nobody can point me to a policy, an email, a meeting, a phone conversation.”