Families Are Still Being Separated by the Government

Supermajority Education Fund

January 6, 2020

Family separation officially ended in June of 2018, when President Trump signed an executive order to end his administration’s zero-tolerance policy. In practice, however, this process is still occurring. The Intercept reported in December that more than 1,100 children had been taken from their parents since the summer of 2018. 

The zero-tolerance policy, which separated thousands of families at the U.S.-Mexico border between May and June 2018, dictated that all migrants who cross the border without legal permission, including asylum-seekers, be referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took responsibility for children under the age of 18 accompanying these migrants, sending them to 100 different Office of Refugee Resettlement Shelters (ORR) across the country, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center

In the months since the end of zero-tolerance, it’s become clear that the original numbers reported by the government were not near to be accurate. In November,  Buzzfeed obtained an unpublished report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Inspector General that said that 3,104 families had been separated during the enforcement of the zero-tolerance policy. 

The report also stated that officials had identified 136 children “with potential family relationships” that were not accurately recorded by the DHS during that same period. And even beyond that period, a broader analysis of DHS data between October 1, 2017, to February 14, 2019, found that Customs and Border Protection did not accurately record an additional 1,233 children with potential family relationships.

In September 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit titled “Ms. L v. ICE” to reunite an asylum-seeking mother and her daughter in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the ACLU, told Supermajority News that the process of the lawsuit brought to light the actual number of families affected by separation in the past three years.  More than 5,400 children have been separated from their families, “hundreds of whom are just babies and toddlers,” Gelernt said. He added, “Over 1,100 were separated after the Court told the government to stop the separation policy.  This shameful period in immigration history is unfortunately, not over. Public outcry is again, essential.”

The Intercept reported that a cause behind the number of separated families is so high because border patrol agents determine whether parents are fit to take care of their children. But the problem, the publication points out, is that Border Patrol agents don’t have training in child welfare.

The Keep Families Together Act, sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), proposes that Port Directors and Chief Border Agents, border workers who are authorized to make family separation decisions, should receive welfare training on an annual basis. This would help officials accurately assess whether a child is fit to be parented before ordering child separation. The Act, or H.R.6135, was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.