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Why Does Trump Separate Families, A Policy Or A Law?

A video released Monday by Customs and Border Protection

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In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, June 17, 2018.
In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, June 17, 2018. VOA

The Trump administration at least since April has been separating children and parents who enter the United States illegally at the border — that much is supported by the numbers. But much of everything else surrounding the practice has become mired in confusion.

Here is what we know:

In recent weeks, news stories of children in detention centers have circulated more widely, and the numbers of detained children have grown.

Department of Homeland Security officials told reporters Friday that between April 19 and May 31 of this year, nearly 2,000 (1,995) children were separated from their parents or other adults with whom they were traveling.

A video released Monday by Customs and Border Protection shows what appears to be humane conditions at a shelter site for children, but many worry that this video, the only video that has been released from within one of the detention centers, may not accurately depict them.

A policy or a law?

As criticism over the separation of parents and children at the border grows, the Trump administration has struggled to explain the policy.

Trump, himself, said the practice is the result of a law passed by Democrats, which has forced his administration into separating parents and children.

But there is no such law.

Rather in May, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance” policy, which means that those detained entering the United States illegally would be criminally charged. This approach generally leads to children being separated from their parents because the law requires it.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks about religious liberty at the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center's annual leadership mission in Washington, June 13, 2018
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks about religious liberty at the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s annual leadership mission in Washington, June 13, 2018, VOA

On Sunday, senior policy adviser to the Trump administration Stephen Miller told The New York Times that the crackdown “was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry. Period.”

Administration officials, including Miller and Sessions, have defended the separation of families, saying that having children does not exempt anyone from the consequences of breaking the law.

“If you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offense, we’re going to prosecute you. … If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally,” Sessions told a gathering of the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies.

The administration has said the new practice is directed at combating a “surge” of unlawful border crossings. But the “surge” appears to be numbers marking a return-to-normal after a dip last year.

Not a new idea

Though the practice of treating all people who cross the border unlawfully as subject to criminal prosecution is new under the Trump administration, it is built on existing policies from the Bush and Obama administrations.

Amid a surge of unlawful migration from Central America to the United States in 2014, the Obama administration considered many plans to deter illegal border crossings, including separating parents and children. Ultimately, Obama decided against separations but did expand the detention of immigrant families. New facilities were opened along the border, which held women and children for long periods of time before their cases were processed.

Following widespread criticism after photos of detained women and children, accompanied by testimonies of people being held for extended periods, a federal judge in Washington effectively ruled that asylum-seeking mothers could not be held for longer than 20 days, leading to what has been called a “catch and release” system where adults were released with GPS ankle monitors tracking their movements until their cases could be heard in court.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at the National Sheriffs' Association convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 18, 2018.
=U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at the National Sheriffs’ Association convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 18, 2018. VOAU.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at the National Sheriffs’ Association convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 18, 2018.VOA

But this “catch and release” system has been heavily criticized by Trump and his administration.

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“This get out of jail free card for families and groups who pose as families has spread,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. “The word of this has spread. The smugglers and traffickers know these loopholes better than our members of Congress. I’m sad to say that from October 2017 to this February, we have seen a staggering 315 percent increase in illegal aliens fraudulently using children to pose as family units to gain entry into this country. This must stop,” she said. (VOA)

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Hundreds of Children Sustained in U.S. Border Detention Facility after Entering the Country without Authorization

Lawyers who visited the remote station said that older children were caring for other children

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This image from a video, taken June 20, 2019, shows the entrance of a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas. A legal team that interviewed about 60 children there says young migrants being held there are being mistreated by the U.S. government. VOA

Several hundred children, held in a U.S. border detention facility in Texas after entering the country without authorization, will be sheltered elsewhere, following a media report last week that described unsanitary living conditions and inadequate food and medical treatment at the facility.

The Associated Press reported Monday that authorities moved “more than 300 ” out of a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, following a June 20 story by the news agency.

Lawyers who visited the remote station said that older children were caring for other children, sanitation conditions were substandard, and children were sick, living in soiled clothes and being given rotten food, according to the AP.

VOA requested comment from the two government agencies involved in housing children who cross the border without authorization, or without a guardian — U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, within the Department of Health and Human Services. Neither office responded as of Monday afternoon.

Children, US, Detention Facility
FILE – Attorney General Jeff Sessions is shown during a news conference in San Diego near the border with Tijuana, Mexico, May 7, 2018. Pixabay

A June report by the Office of the Inspector General, the internal watchdog at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, found cleanliness and sanitation problems during an inspection of four detention facilities.

Asked about the allegations of poor standards for detained children, U.S. President Donald Trump did not address the AP report in a TV interview aired on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” show.Instead, he laid responsibility — erroneously — on his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for the creation of what became known under Trump as the “family separation” policy.

As researchers from the Bipartisan Policy Center explained in a 2018 report, previous administrations relied more heavily on family detention facilities or alternatives to detention, like the use of monitoring devices.

Parents and children were separated under Obama in limited circumstances, such as cases where child trafficking was suspected.

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It was under the Trump administration, however, that then-Attorney General Jeff Session announced a blanket zero tolerance policy to detain all migrants who crossed the border without authorization.

That policy, though short-lived, led to thousands of adults and children being held in separate facilities. The public backlash and lawsuits led the administration to rescind the policy.

In a separate interview Sunday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged that the conditions in the facilities as reported by AP were unacceptable, he shifted the blame to Democrats in Congress.

Meanwhile, authorities said Monday that three children and one adult found dead in South Texas near the border with Mexico probably died of dehydration and heat exposure after crossing the Rio Grande into this country, AP reported.

Children, US, Detention Facility
Several hundred children, held in a U.S. border detention facility in Texas after entering the country. Pixabay

An increase in the detention of families with young children and children traveling without guardians has left U.S.officials scrambling to meet the shelter demands on the border.

At one point in recent months, CBP solicited bids to purchase thousands of baby bottles and diapers for detainees at the border.

From Oct. 1, 2018 – the start of the fiscal year – through May 31, CBP has detained 332,981 families and 56,278 unaccompanied children at the border, according to agency data.

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The agency is under scrutiny over several deaths of children in its custody since late last year. (VOA)