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Migrants crossing the Texas-Mexico border. Photo: Getty Images.
Migrants crossing the Texas-Mexico border. Photo: Getty Images.

Families are being separated at the border at the hands of the Texas Department of Public Safety, according to immigration attorney

An attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid said the DPS has apprehended a number of fathers seeking asylum and separating them from their families as a result.

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According to an immigration lawyer with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, the Texas Department of Public Safety arrested a number of fathers seeking asylum in the country last month, which ended with them being separated from their families. 

Audrey Mulholland, a TRLA attorney, told ABC News that 26 fathers have been separated from their families that the agency is aware of, many of whom having been arrested on trespassing charges between July 10 and 14.

"It's very unclear to these families what's happening and why they are being separated," she said. "The fathers have told me that their children are hanging on to them and crying and really distraught as they see their fathers arrested and taken away from them."

All of their clients' expressed similar stories, according to Mulholland. Once asylum seekers reach the Rio Grande river, Texas DPS officers, as opposed to immigration officers, direct them, Mulholland said. “They are the ones that [are] kind of directing them to enter up on the riverbank.”

Muholland said asylum seekers have expressed to her that officers first call for all single men and women to cross. They are then arrested, she said. The officers next call for families to cross, directing men to one side and women and children to the other, Muholland said. The fathers are arrested and then go to state prison, she said.

"I am not entirely sure what they're being advised in that moment as the reason for their arrest,” she said, referring to the separated fathers. "But I do know the one thing I've heard from all of them that extremely perplexed them was that they were told that they would be reunited with their families later in immigration custody, which just hasn't happened."

The immigration attorney said she believes there is much confusion among asylum seekers regarding where they’re supposed to present themselves. She also claimed that Texas DPS has been making arrests on the premise that the asylum seekers trespassed onto private property.

A Texas DPS spokesperson told ABC News in a statement that, “There have been instances in which DPS has arrested male migrants on state charges who were with their family when the alleged crime occurred. Children and their mothers were never separated, but instead turned over to the US Border Patrol together.”

News of the policy was first reported by the Houston Chronicle. A White House spokesperson responded to reports of separation at the border in a written statement. 

“Governor Abbott’s reckless actions continue to undermine our border management plan which has proven effective in decreasing irregular migration to the Southwest Border. As the President has said multiple times, the Trump Administration’s family separation policy was abhorrent and unconscionable. Any effort to replicate that violates every notion of who we are as a nation.” 

A spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security said, “This report is troubling and should be thoroughly investigated. We can both enforce our laws and treat human beings with dignity. Unlawful border crossings have gone down since our border enforcement plan went into effect and remain well below the levels seen under the Title 42 public health Order. 

“Managing our border in a safe and humane way works best when we all work together to respect the dignity of every human being and keep our communities safe."

According to Mulholland, it’s currently unclear when families will be reunited as separated members having to go through different proceedings.

The mothers and children who were first processed by border patrol might’ve been given release documents and referred for an immigration court hearing, she said. Fathers meanwhile are being placed in expedited removal as they go through immigration custody. 

"We do believe this is a new state-sponsored family separation and this is just another kind of step that the state of Texas is taking to try and dissuade desperate asylum seekers,” Mulholland said. "It is just another step in which they are entering kind of the federal immigration enforcement realm.”

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