Forced separation of undocumented migrants and their children, supposedly over in 2018, is alive and well, The Intercept reported Monday.
At least 5,000 migrant children were separated from their families under the Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance immigration policy. The policy stipulated, as the Southern Poverty Law Center explains, that “all migrants who cross the border without permission, including those seeking asylum, be referred to the DOJ for prosecution.”
According to The Intercept, “The focus on families was part of a distinct effort by the Department of Homeland Security and the White House to try and dissuade — by subjecting parents and children to the terror of separation — more people from coming to the United States.”
After nationwide mass protests against the family separation policy, media reports of the horrific conditions at the government immigration centers housing the migrants, and an injunction from a federal judge, President Trump signed an executive order in June 2018 that supposedly mandated an end family separation.
As reported by The Intercept, however, “Since the supposed end of family separation … more than 1,100 children have been taken from their parents, according to the government’s own data.” The article continues: “There may be more, since that data has been plagued by bad record keeping and inconsistencies.”
This is hardly the first sign that the government wasn’t being true to its word. In July 2019, a little over a year after Trump signed the executive order supposedly ending the policy, NBC News reported that the government was taking advantage of what NBC calls “a narrow exception to the order … that the parent poses a danger to the child, or has a serious criminal record or gang affiliation.”
“The government is trying to drive a truck through what was supposed to be a very narrow exception,” Leo Gelernt, of the American Civil Liberties Union, told NBC News, referring to the use of the exception.
Intercept writer John Washington points out that Border Patrol agents are “untrained in child welfare,” leading them to “make decisions that some parents are unfit to stay with their children based solely on brief interactions with them while they are held in custody.”
The lack of training and high level of disorganization among the Border Patrol in particular and the U.S. immigration system in general makes reuniting families needlessly complicated, Time Magazine reported in October:
Court records show that family separation has become increasingly complex as thousands of children’s reunification now depend on factors including when they were separated, where their parents are now, and if they are considered plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the Trump Administration.
Washington interviewed a Honduran man named Dennis (he declined to give his last name), who was separated from his daughter for five months after they traveled from Honduras to Mexico and then crossed the border into the United States. “You can’t imagine the pain,” Dennis told Washington, adding, “If you’re not a dad, you don’t know what it’s like.”
Dennis and his 11-year-old daughter Sonia turned themselves in at the U.S.-Mexico border entry point in McAllen, Texas, asking for asylum. Instead, after a month Dennis was deported back to Honduras, while Sonia was sent to a shelter in New York (Dennis deemed his other two children too young to travel, and they stayed in Honduras).
The reason for the separation relates to the aforementioned narrow exception. Dennis had been charged with forgery the last time he crossed the border into the United States, 11 years ago. Seeking work, he obtained fake identification papers in Minnesota before being caught, sent to prison and then deported back to Honduras. He was separated from Sonia because of his record.
Many other parents are continuing to be separated from their children—for the most minor offenses. Efrén Olivares, a Texas immigration attorney, explained to Time: “We’ve had instances of fathers separated from their children because the last time the father was in the U.S. years ago, he got a ticket for driving with an expired license.” Olivares added, “He was arrested, and therefore now has a criminal conviction on his record, and that is the justification for the separation.”
Many of these parents never get a chance to talk to their children, let alone obtain information on their location and safety. While in federal custody, Dennis repeatedly asked about Sonia’s whereabouts, but Border Patrol agents gave him no answers. Father and daughter were finally reunited after five months, when Sonia was also sent back to Honduras. The family told Washington they are debating whether to risk crossing the border once again.
The ACLU has issued a legal challenge to the continued separations, specifically to the exception that allowed the government to separate Dennis and Sonia. A judge has yet to rule.
Read the full story from The Intercept here.