More Migrant Children Have Been Separated From Families Than Previously Thought

Border Detention More Children

A new official report has revealed that thousands of children were separated from their parents at the southern U.S. border under President Trump’s watch, but well before he implemented his notoriously unpopular and cruel “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. You remember, the one that ordered border patrol agents to forcibly separate minors from their families after their treacherous journeys north to America?

Children separated
Dozens of women, men and their children, many fleeing poverty and violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, arrive at a bus station after being released from Customs and Border Protection on Saturday in McAllen, Tex. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

There’s no way to know exactly how many families were separated before the federal government began to keep an official record of the incidents which occurred in 2017, and there’s currently no effort to unearth an accurate count. “It is certainly more than 2,737, but how many more, precisely, is unknown,” said Ann Maxwell, an assistant inspector general for Health and Human Services, citing the official count of minors taken from their families during the President’s border security free-for-all. Estimates range in the thousands. Maxwell explained to the New York Times that these separations appeared to have begun shortly after President Trump was sworn into office, and at least 118 separations occurred even after the court issued a stop order on mandatory separation. Separating migrant children from their family members is standard procedure when border patrol agents feel that a minor’s safety is at risk or if their guardian is suspected of committing a serious crime. President Trump’s administration, on the contrary, had indicated at times that they were using the separation policy as a means to deter migrants from coming to the U.S. border; at other times, they shirked all blame and insisted that family separation had been written into a law that only Democrats had the power to change.

A Sharp Rise In Family Separations Under Trump

Previous administrations have kept minors in custody in shelters and foster care while their adult family members awaited prosecution, but its incidence has risen sharply under the current presidency. According to statistics from the Washington Post, in August of 2017, 3.6 percent of unaccompanied minors were children who had been separated from their families; this was an unprecedented increase from the previous year late in President Obama’s second term, when these separations accounted for only 0.3 percent of children in custody. Fewer unaccompanied minors were put into migrant detention centers in 2018 than the previous four years, yet the total number of children detained without parents (both separated and unaccompanied) was at an all-time high in late 2018.

This separation should not be taken lightly, as the separation itself can inflict serious and lasting harm on a child. While the zero-tolerance separation policy was in effect, the American Psychological Association implored President Trump to keep families together while they awaited their fates at the border. Separation puts children at an increased risk of mental illness and chronic, long-term diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.