This week, Trump and DHS Secretary John Kelly floated plans to begin separating parents and children at the border, and outrage ensued. The New York Times described the idea as “cruelty disguised as compassion” while former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote that:
Imposing this kind of cruelty on children runs counter to everything we stand for as a moral, compassionate and freedom-loving nation. The federal government should not be in the business of breaking up families, whether they are migrants apprehended at the border, or parents living here illegally with their American-born children.
Today, a new report was by the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) about the egregious consequences that transpire when families are separated at the border.
According to the report, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents today follow a border policy rooted in immigration trends from previous decades, when most immigrants crossing into the US were adults seeking employment. Today, immigrants are more typically families who are coming from central America and fleeing violence — yet CBP processes them in the same way as previous immigrants.
Often, this involves separating family members in order to group them by age and gender in detention centers: teenage unaccompanied boys, teenage unaccompanied girls, very young unaccompanied boys and girls, mothers with children, adult men, so forth. But as the report says:
There is no agency-wide policy defining what constitutes a family, no traceable documentation of those familial relationships, nor a requirement for documentation of all family separation incidents.
This means that families are separated during their holding in detention. It means that CBP is not making particular efforts to categorize who came together or who constitutes a family. When detained immigrants are moved to different detention centers, no effort is made to keep family members updated or in communication with one another. In some cases, it means that parents and children can lose contact and must resort to some other method of finding each other again. In some cases, one family member may be approved for asylum while another is deported. And the fact that they are separated complicates individual immigrants’ court cases for asylum.
This is what Trump and Sec. Kelly are considering formalizing as policy — ensuring that all families who are detained while coming across the border will be treated in this way. As the report states, “Instead of promoting family unity, we as a nation are breaking families apart.” And now Trump and Sec. Kelly want to make separation a feature, not a bug, for families coming across the border.