The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) claims it “does not currently have a policy of separating women and children” seeking asylum at the U.S./Mexico border, but it is cruelly doing so anyway. DHS officials, according to The New York Times, have also “repeatedly declined to provide data on how many families have been separated, but suggested that the number was relatively low.”
That is also a lie. Last month, advocates with the Women’s Refugee Commission estimated that officials have separated “at least 426 immigrant adults and children” since last year, “but new data reviewed by The New York Times shows that more than 700 children have been taken from adults claiming to be their parents since October, including more than 100 children under the age of 4”:
The data was prepared by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services that takes custody of children who have been removed from migrant parents. Senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security, which processes migrants at the border, initially denied that the numbers were so high. But after they were confirmed to The Times by three federal officials who work closely with these cases, a spokesman for the health and human services department on Friday acknowledged in a statement that there were “approximately 700.”
Homeland security officials said the agency does not separate families at the border for deterrence purposes. “As required by law, D.H.S. must protect the best interests of minor children crossing our borders, and occasionally this results in separating children from an adult they are traveling with if we cannot ascertain the parental relationship, or if we think the child is otherwise in danger,” a spokesman for the agency said in a statement.
But Trump administration officials have suggested publicly in the past that they were, indeed, considering a deterrence policy. Last year, John F. Kelly, President Trump’s chief of staff, floated the idea while he was serving as homeland security secretary.
In February, one asylum-seeker who crossed the border with her 18-month-old child was immediately separated from him. “The agents ordered her to place her son in the back seat of a government vehicle, she said later in a sworn declaration to a federal court. They both cried as the boy was driven away.” She hasn’t seen him since, only hearing through a case manager that he has “cried all the time” and has an ear infection and a cough. “I had no idea that I would be separated from my child for seeking help,” the mother, Miriam, has said. “I am so anxious to be reunited with him.”
The most horrific separation of a Congolese family by Trump administration officials earlier this year eventually led to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) class-action lawsuit against the administration over family separations, arguing that these separations serve "no legitimate purpose, not to mention compelling governmental interest." In fact, the result of the government’s actions frequently end up making the case why families shouldn’t be separated in the first place:
Children removed from their families are taken to shelters run by nongovernmental organizations. There, workers seek to identify a relative or guardian in the United States who can take over the child’s care. But if no such adult is available, the children can languish in custody indefinitely. Operators of these facilities say they are often unable to locate the parents of separated children because the children arrive without proper records.
But there was already a relative or guardian who could cared for the child—the parent they were taken from in the first place. In pure dollars and cents, this is a waste of our government’s resources. But in human costs, this is cruelty on the part of government officials. “The idea of punishing parents who are trying to save their children’s lives, and punishing children for being brought to safety by their parents by separating them, is fundamentally cruel and un-American,” said the Women’s Refugee Commission’s Michelle Brané. “It really to me is just a horrific ‘Sophie’s Choice’ for a mom.”
There could soon be even more clarification on what the government has been doing, following the DHS inspector general agreeing to a letter from Senate Democrats requesting an investigation into allegations of family separation. Among the specific requests from the senators are “the number of children of asylum-seekers DHS has separated from a parent since January 20, 2017”—Donald Trump’s inauguration day—the “DHS policy on the separation of children of asylum seekers from their parents since January 20, 2017,” and, just as importantly, “the number of children of asylum-seekers who are currently detained separately from a parent.”