Inside an old warehouse in South Texas, hundreds of children wait in a series of cages created by metal fencing. One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about are bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets.
One teenager told an advocate who visited that she was helping care for a young child she didn’t know because the child’s aunt was somewhere else in the facility. She said she had to show others in her cell how to change the girl’s diaper.
Brane said she also saw officials at the facility scold a group of 5-year-olds for playing around in their cage, telling them to settle down. There are no toys or books.
But one boy nearby wasn’t playing with the rest. According to Brane, he was quiet, clutching a piece of paper that was a photocopy of his mother’s ID card.
“The government is literally taking kids away from their parents and leaving them in inappropriate conditions,” Brane said. “If a parent left a child in a cage with no supervision with other 5-year-olds, they’d be held accountable.”
Dr. Colleen Kraft, the head of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that she visited a small shelter in Texas recently, which she declined to identity. A toddler inside the 60-bed facility caught her eye — she was crying uncontrollably and pounding her little fists on mat.
Staff members tried to console the child, who looked to be about 2 years old, Kraft said. She had been taken from her mother the night before and brought to the shelter.
The staff gave her books and toys — but they weren’t allowed to pick her up, to hold her or hug her to try to calm her. As a rule, staff aren’t allowed to touch the children there, she said.
The White House's "zero tolerance" immigration policy and resulting separations of undocumented parents and kids is exploding into the most emotive and politically unpredictable test yet of President Donald Trump's effort to change the character of America.
As outrage grows over traumatic stories of families being torn apart, the big question this week in Washington is how long the controversial practice will be politically sustainable amid a wave of criticism.
A related issue is whether Trump will pay a political price for his false claim that the separations are the fault of Democrats, and not the result of his own administration's change in how undocumented immigrants are treated.
Those questions are likely to be shaped by increasing calls for the administration to consider the morality of separating families. It's not just the usual Democrats who are criticizing the administration -- some prominent Republicans, including first lady Melania Trump and former first lady Laura Bush, religious leaders and influential figures in Trump's conservative evangelical base are also speaking out.
On Sunday, a day we as a nation set aside to honor fathers and the bonds of family, I was among the millions of Americans who watched images of children who have been torn from their parents. In the six weeks between April 19 and May 31, the Department of Homeland Security has sent nearly 2,000 children to mass detention centers or foster care. More than 100 of these children are younger than 4 years old. The reason for these separations is a zero-tolerance policy for their parents, who are accused of illegally crossing our borders.
I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.
Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war. We pride ourselves on believing that people should be seen for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place.
Meanwhile, Trump continues to not take responsiblity and keeps lying about what his administration is doing. He lies and says that it's the Democrats fault, but it is HIS administration that decided to do this.
President Trump seems to recognize that news reports about children being separated from their parents at the border don’t reflect well on his administration. He has called the separations “horrible” on Twitter and, as recently as Friday morning during an interview with “Fox and Friends,” blamed the political opposition.
“I hate the children being taken away,” he said. “The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.”
This has been debunked repeatedly, including by The Washington Post. There is no “Democrats’ law” that necessitates separating children from their parents. As people familiar with the rules regarding the handling of young people at the border made clear in interviews on Friday, the separation policy is a function of decisions made by Trump and his team. What’s more, the administration specifically implemented the policy to serve as a deterrent for those thinking about seeking entry to the United States.
Secretary of Homeland Security lying
We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.
A new policy, unveiled by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April, calls for "zero-tolerance" for immigrants who illegally enter the U.S. along the Mexican border. Sessions warned that violators would be met with "the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice."
There’s likely a reason, though, why Nielsen has insisted categorically that no such policy exists. That reason is that such a policy would almost certainly violate the due process clause of the Constitution. In rejecting the government’s request to dismiss an ACLU lawsuit challenging the practice earlier this month, District Court Judge Dana Sabraw opined that a policy of indefinite family separation would be “brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency” and a “clear” violation of the “constitutional right to family integrity.” The judge, who is yet to rule on the merits of whether or not child separation is actually in fact what’s taking place, applied that logic equally to asylum seekers who have presented themselves lawfully at a port of entry and those who have been prosecuted for illegal entry and served their time. Those who had applied for asylum at a port of entry and saw their children taken away without any apparent lawful basis, as well as asylum seekers who had seen their children separated lawfully while they were detained for immigration offenses and had served their sentences were “on equal footing … for purposes of pursuing [a] due process claim,” the judge ruled.
That means the judge has written that indefinite child separation of asylum seekers—even in cases where a parent had been convicted of illegal entry—would be unconstitutional if it were happening. So in order to keep the practice going, the government has to deny publicly that it is in fact happening, as Nielsen did over the weekend.
As my colleague Mark Joseph Stern noted last week, in that failed motion to dismiss the due process grounds of the ACLU lawsuit, the government acknowledged it was making the choice to separate families, justifying it as an unreviewable “discretionary” decision. In that legal brief, the Department of Justice argued it was in its discretion to both indefinitely separate parents who had been convicted of the crime of illegal entry and those who had lawfully sought asylum by presenting their family at a port of entry. “ICE’s discretionary […] decision to detain an alien in a particular facility is not judicially reviewable,” the government argued. This is essentially an acknowledgment that the decision to hold families separately is a choice that Donald Trump’s government is making.
Evidence is piling up of what that looks like in practice. The ACLU lawsuit is full of declarations, including from parents who presented themselves lawfully at a U.S. port of entry, describing child separation. On Monday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein reported that 2,342 children had been separated from their parents at the border between May 5 and June 9. The Washington Examiner reported that—including children who arrived at the border by themselves—the administration could be holding 30,000 undocumented immigrant children by August. And for those who are willing to allow themselves to experience what child separation sounds like in practice, ProPublica has published an audio recording of one such separation taken from inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility.
Manuel Padilla Jr., Border Patrol chief for the Rio Grande Valley, told The Washington Post on Thursday that his agents had separated 568 parents from children as young as 5 since the zero-tolerance policy was announced on April 6.
But that figure represented only half the number of parents who could have been prosecuted for entering the country illegally, leaving Border Patrol plenty of room to ramp up family separations.
“We are trying to build to 100 percent prosecution of everybody that is eligible,” he said. “We are not there yet, but that is our intent.”
"If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It's that simple," Sessions told reporters on a mesa overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where a border barrier separating San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico juts out into the ocean.
Nearly one of every four Border Patrol arrests on the Mexican border from October through April was someone who came in a family, meaning any large increase in prosecutions is likely to cause parents to be separated from their children while they face charges and do time in jail.
Sessions says he's placed a "zero tolerance policy" for anyone who enters the country illegally on the Mexican border.
Children who are separated from their parents would be put under supervision of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, Sessions said. The department's Office of Refugee Resettlement releases children traveling alone to family and places them in shelters.
"We don't want to separate families, but we don't want families to come to the border illegally and attempt to enter into this country improperly," Sessions said. "The parents are subject to prosecution while children may not be. So, if we do our duty and prosecute those cases, then children inevitably for a period of time might be in different conditions."
A heckler interrupted Sessions on a megaphone, shouting, "Why are you doing this? Do you have a heart?"
Thomas Homan, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's acting director, said there is no "blanket policy" to separate families as a way to deter others, echoing recent comments by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. But he said immigration authorities have long separated families if they have reason to doubt the relationship or if parent is prosecuted.
"Every law enforcement agency in this country separates parents from children when they're arrested for a crime," Homan said alongside Sessions. "There is no new policy. This has always been the policy. Now, you will see more prosecutions because of the attorney general's commitment to zero tolerance."
Advocacy groups blasted the moves as cruel and heartless, especially in cases where the family is seeking asylum in the United States.
His nonsense about the Apostle Paul and protecting 'the weak and lawful' ignores the fact that the policy is not law and many immigrants are seeking asylum.
Asked to respond to Sessions’s comments at the White House later, press secretary Sarah Sanders replied that “It is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.”
The problem: separating families isn’t a matter of law, but of a change in executive policy. Under previous practice, migrant families would typically be apprehended by law enforcement, then set free pending a date in court before an immigration judge—the practice vilified by Trump and his allies as “catch and release.” The new policy hasn’t done anything to speed up the backlog of immigration cases—but it has mandated that adult immigrants be jailed until their number is called. And that means tossing their children into the bureaucratic care of the federal government—perhaps for a short time, perhaps permanently.
Making matters worse is the fact that many of those affected by the new policy are not “illegal immigrants” in the traditional sense at all, but people fleeing persecution or gang violence in Central America who are suing for asylum in America. Some of those who immediately turned themselves over to law enforcement to plead asylum have been among those whose children have been taken, despite the fact that suing for asylum on such grounds is perfectly legal. Or at least it was until Monday, when Sessions overturned an immigration judge to rule that claims of domestic violence and gang violence would no longer form an acceptable basis for granting asylum.
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