New data reviewed by the New York Times shows that more than 700 children have been taken from adults who claim to be their parents since October 2017, including more than 100 children under the age of four.
These data counter the story senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security have been pushing that the numbers were not so high. It was not until the New York Times confirmed that three federal officials who work with the cases confirmed these numbers that a government spokesman acknowledged there were about 700 cases.
Members of Congress had been pushing for answers about how many cases of child separation there were at the border, partially due to the fact that the Trump administration had previously said it was considering separating children from their parents as a way to deter more migrants from trying to cross the border.
Department of Homeland Security officials note that the department is required by law to protect the interests of minor children crossing into the United States, which sometimes means separating the child from the adult they were with if they cannot confirm a parental relationship.
Children separated from parents are taken to shelters run by nongovernmental organizations. Workers at the shelters seek to identify a relative in the U.S. to care for the child, but if they cannot find someone, the children remain in custody indefinitely. Often, parents crossing the border with their children do not bring proof of parental relations making the possibility of reunifying the parents with their children that much more difficult.
VERDICT: This is a very difficult situation for the U.S. government, as homeland security has had to deal with instances of fraud. Immigrants who arrive with children can be released more quickly into the U.S. than adults who come alone. Some migrants have conceded that they brought their children not just to remove them from the danger in their home country, but also because they thought it would allow them to be released sooner.
Though there may be cases of fraud, the conditions noted above for legitimate families separated are completely traumatizing. In the words of Michelle Branè, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, “the idea of punishing parents who are trying to save their children’s lives, and punishing children for being brought to safety by their parents by separating them, is fundamentally cruel and un-American.”
The pain caused by separating children from their parents is too severe to not take the utmost care before resorting to that tactic. Border officials must do their due diligence to confirm or deny parental status before acting to separate families.