Trump administration officials told reporters on a press call Friday that they have set up a hotline for migrant parents who have been separated from their children as part of the government’s new “zero tolerance policy” to reunite them with their children.
But this supposed hotline does not live up to the way the administration advertised it, a fact that was not hard to uncover.
The number officials read out — 1-800-203-7001 — is not a newly established hotline at all. Rather, it’s the main line for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which gives callers three options: Press one if your call is regarding an adult 18 years or older traveling to the United States, press two if you have an extension for a case manager, and press three for all other calls.
When a reporter on the press call asked about that fact, the officials said they would have to respond later.
Officials on the Friday call did, for the first time, offer concrete numbers concerning the number of children who have been detained and separated from their parents in recent weeks: From April 19 through May 31, authorities have detained 1,995 minors traveling with 1,940 adults.
But in general, the Friday call was just the latest in a series of examples of how the Trump administration’s explanations for its policy of separating migrant children from their parents continue to shift and unravel.
Officials mainly used the call to complain about the ways in which the matter was getting reporting, and press representatives from the Department of Justice (DOJ), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would only speak on background and refused to allow reporters to identify them by name.
Before allowing questions from reporters, the officials contended that extant reporting about the zero tolerance policy was not focused on what they believe are the “actual” issues.
And throughout the call, officials continued to repeat bogus, long-debunked claims that they have no choice but to separate migrant children from their parents because of “loopholes” that Democrats in Congress refuse to close. The argument made by DOJ, ICE, and CBP Friday echoed what White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday at the press briefing.
“The separation of illegal alien families is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close and these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade and the president is simply enforcing them,” Sanders told reporters.
But the holes in that spin were clear Friday, as officials argued that law enforcement agencies are under pressure to separate migrant children from parents who are facing criminal charges. However, when asked about where this pressure was coming from, no clear answer was offered.
Officials also flatly denied a recent report which alleged that a migrant woman had her child wrested from her while she was breastfeeding.
But a CNN report Wednesday told a different story. According to reporters Ed Lavandera, Jason Morris and Darran Simon, a migrant mother was breastfeeding her child at a detention center when federal authorities took the child from her. When she resisted, she was handcuffed. The mother reportedly cried as she relayed the experience to an attorney earlier this week.
CNN also reported Wednesday that some parents aren’t even being told that they are being separated from their kids for the foreseeable future. According to the report, some parents have told attorneys they don’t know what happened to their children. Some parents report that after allowing their children to be taken to receive a bath, they were never returned to them.
Officials denied Friday that there is any confusion about children being separated from their parents, saying the separations are happening fluidly and effectively and that there is no language barrier complicating communication between federal authorities and migrants entering the country.
The call with administration officials Friday comes just one day after Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed it will erect tent cities to hold migrant children who have been separated from their parents.
The tent city will have 450 beds and will be located at Tornillo Land Port of Entry near El Paso. The average temperature in the area this summer will hover around 100 degrees Fahrenheit and could reach nearly 110 degrees.