The Trump administration’s immigration policies sparked national outrage in June when over 3,000 children were separated from their parents while attempting to cross the United States (U.S.) border. The parent-child separations are a result of President Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, which dictates that all adults who enter the U.S. illegally should be criminally prosecuted instead of undergoing civil deportation proceedings. Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally announced the policy in April of this year, but, according to The New York Times, the family separations began no later than October 2017 with 700 children separated from parents between October and April.
Before the zero-tolerance action, families would ordinarily be sent together to a family detention center. Under the new policy, parents were sent to a detention facility and their children to a juvenile center. After pleading their case—which, with thousands of cases crowding immigration courts, could take months—convicted parents were deported immediately with no clear process for reunification with their children.
Children separated from their parents have been placed in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and held in centers designed to detain child immigrants, usually teenagers, who have crossed the border alone, for short periods of time. However, because of the family separations, the cage-like centers partitioned into rooms by chain-link fences have been used to house children, some who are under the age of 3, for months at a time. In late June, the investigative nonprofit ProPublica released a tape of children at the border crying and screaming out for their parents with border agents responding by making jokes at the children’s expense. The tape intensified public outrage over the separations, and government officials, activists, and nonprofit organizations were among many that criticized Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s behavior, arguing that it was unwarranted, cruel, and risked long-term trauma effects on the children.
Facing increasing national outcry, President Trump elected to end the child separations on June 20, signing an executive order that stated migrant families should be kept together at the U.S.– Mexico border. While parent-child separations are no longer allowed, the zero-tolerance policy is still in place, and adults will continue to be criminally prosecuted for border-crossing.
Over the last few months, ICE has been working to reunite thousands of separated children with their parents. As of August 28, over 500 children remain detained, and 343 of their parents were deported before the executive order was enacted, posing significant logistical problems in tracking the parents down.
In the hopes of learning more about the policies that led to the child separation and about the state of crisis at the border, The Vanguard sought out people involved in government and in aid for immigrants. We aim to gain a deeper understanding of the government systems in place to monitor the border, of the struggles illegal immigrants are now facing, and, hopefully, of how the first problem is influencing the second.