The Trump administration’s inhumane Remain in Mexico policy isn’t only forcing asylum-seekers to wait out their cases in dangerous border regions that the U.S. government tells Americans to avoid. It’s also resulting in continued family separation, with BuzzFeed News reporting that U.S. border officials have returned a number of these asylum-seekers back to Mexico without their children, “sometimes based on incomplete or misleading information.”
In one case, Customs and Border Protection agents separated a Guatemalan family after accusing the dad of having a “stained” criminal record, when the actual record showed a robbery accusation later deemed “baseless” by a judge there, and nothing else. Miguel and his child Francisco eventually fled Guatemala due to gang threats, only to encounter another kind of violence at the border. They haven't seen each other since late August. Miguel told BuzzFeed News that he told agents, “‘I’m not a thief; my hands are clean. Anything I was accused of is a lie.’ It didn’t matter in the end.”
Separated kids—now considered unaccompanied minors by the government even though they clearly didn’t come to the U.S. unaccompanied—have been sent to Office of Refugee Resettlement custody, while their parents and families have then been sent to places such as a squalid border camp or nonsecure shelters in Mexico. There, these families have to deal not only with the possibility of violence or scrambling to find an attorney or just being able to physically get to their immigration court dates for sham hearings, but now also with trying to figure out how to get their kids back.
CBP is reportedly declining to say exactly how many kids it’s taken, so it’s not even known exactly how many families have been separated under Remain in Mexico. BuzzFeed News reports, “A complaint filed by the Women’s Refugee Commission in August with two DHS watchdog agencies detailed 20 cases where families were separated by CBP at the border and at least some members were sent back to Mexico under MPP,” or Migrant Protection Protocols, the government’s misleading name for this program that offers no protection at all.
The U.S. has also been forcing these asylum-seekers to separate in other ways. Marili told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month that she didn’t want to send her two children across the border alone, but she was left with no other choice: The family’s next immigration hearing isn’t until March, the camp they were living in together is squalid, and her 3-year-old daughter, Madeline, was losing weight. “It was the hardest decision I had to make in my life,” she said. “But it’s the position the U.S. government has put us in.”
Remember: The Trump administration doesn’t have to do any of this. It can allow asylum-seekers to pursue their cases here in freedom as they’re assisted by sponsors, relatives, and humanitarian organizations, but that would be a lot more fair, wouldn’t it? Instead, the administration seeks to inflict maximum cruelty for maximum injury. “Both MPP and family separations are inflicting enormous damage on families and in particular children, but when the government combines the two, it’s particularly brutal,” Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union's national Immigrants' Rights Project told BuzzFeed News.