Since last October, an estimated 1,358 children have been ripped away from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border — a cruel practice that has become increasingly common in the past month, as the Trump administration attempts to deter families from crossing.
The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward families attempting to enter the U.S. is extreme. Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions first announced it on May 7, it has been lambasted as “an intentional infliction of trauma on children,” and the U.N. described it as “a serious violation of the rights of the child.”
The U.S. government has not released official figures on the number of migrant children separated from their families, leaving advocates and journalists to piece together the available information on their own. In a report published last week, the Intercept put the figure at 1,358, based on data provided by the Office of Refugee Resettlement as well as recent testimony from a Customs and Border Protection official, who said that a staggering 658 children were placed “in the prosecution process” in the two weeks after Sessions’s announcement.
Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the ACLU, believes 1,358 to be too low of an estimate: He told the Intercept he thinks the real number of separated families is somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000.
In the wake of the “zero tolerance” policy, horrific story after horrific story has emerged. At a federal prison in SeaTac, Washington, where approximately 200 female asylum-seekers were imprisoned last week, the women could reportedly hear their children “screaming for their moms” in another room. “One woman said, ‘I want to be with my children,’ and the Border Patrol agent said: ‘You will never see your children again. Families don’t exist here. You won’t have a family anymore,’” Representative Pramila Jayapal, who toured the facility, told the Washington Post.
A public defender who works in South Texas told the Boston Globe that several of her clients in government custody say Border Patrol agents took their children away, ostensibly to give them baths. As the hours passed, the lawyer said, the women began to realize their kids weren’t coming back.
Last month, after being separated from his wife and 3-year-old son, a Honduran man killed himself in a Texas jail cell, per the Washington Post.
Long before Sessions’s order, in March, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against family separation in the cases of asylum seekers, which a federal judge recently ruled could go forward. Gelernt, who is on that case, told the Intercept the new “zero tolerance” policy is unlike anything he’s ever seen.
“It’s the sheer numbers, and it’s just the age of the kids and the horror of it,” he said. “We’re getting so many unsolicited calls from doctors saying, ‘This is so horrible. I can’t believe this.’”