The Trump administration has separated 81 children from their parents since June 20, when President Trump signed an executive order ending his administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, a report by the Associated Press revealed this week.
Immigration officials have continued the policy despite the order and a federal judge’s ruling.
A recent investigation by ProPublica discovered at least 16 separation cases that occurred after June 20, but the report from the Associated Press found that the number was much higher.
According to the AP:
From June 21, the day after President Donald Trump’s order, through Tuesday, 76 adults were separated from the children, according to the data. Of those, 51 were criminally prosecuted — 31 with criminal histories and 20 for other, unspecified reasons, according to the government data. Nine were hospitalized, 10 had gang affiliations and four had extraditable warrants, according to the immigration data.
Two other adults were separated due to “prior immigration violations and orders of removal,” the outlet wrote.
As ThinkProgress previously reported, federal immigration officials are continuing these separations by exploiting a legal loophole. U.S. federal judge Dana Sabraw — who ruled this summer that the government was responsible for reuniting all separated migrant families — made exceptions in his decision for cases where the parent had a criminal history or if the child’s safety was at risk.
Immigration advocates are now concerned that law enforcement officials are finding any justification they can to separate families in the absence of a zero-tolerance policy.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already threatened the government with another lawsuit if the grounds for these separations are unfounded. “If the government is still secretly separating children, and is doing so based on flimsy excuses, that would be patently unconstitutional and we will be back in court,” Lee Gelernt, lead attorney in the ACLU family separation lawsuit told ProPublica.
One of those families is Julio and his 4-year-old son Brayan, who were separated after they crossed the border in September.
Brayan was forcibly taken from his father by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents after Julio asked for asylum, fleeing gang violence in El Salvador. “I failed him,” Julio told ProPublica. “Everything I had done to be a good father was destroyed in an instant.”
CBP agents claimed that were justified in separating the father and son because Julio’s background check showed he had a confirmed history of gang affiliation with MS-13. However, the agency did not provide evidence supporting Julio’s involvement with the gang to either ProPublica or Julio’s own lawyer.
The Trump administration, for its part, has done its best to downplay the situation.
“The welfare of children in our custody is paramount,” Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Katie Waldman told AP reporters. “As we have already said — and the numbers show: Separations are rare. While there was a brief increase during zero tolerance as more adults were prosecuted, the numbers have returned to their prior levels.”
The Trump administration implemented a zero-tolerance policy at the border earlier this summer in order to deter Central American families from making the dangerous journey to the U.S.-Mexico border. As a result, the government separated nearly 3,000 children from their parents and shipped them off to different detention centers with no clear plan on how they would be reunited.
Even after Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the reunification of all separated migrant families, hundreds of parents were deemed “ineligible” to see their children again and were deported. Currently, there are an estimated 66 children, separated from their parents before June 20, in government custody.
The news of continued separations at the border comes as the number of detained immigrant children has skyrocketed. According to data obtained by The New York Times, there were 12,800 migrant children in government custody in September, compared to 2,400 children in May 2017. This increase is not due to an influx in the number of migrant children entering the country, but rather the government severely reducing the number of children released to live with sponsors or family already in the United States.