13 Things You Need To Know About The Family Separation Policy But Were Afraid To Ask

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The Trump administration's immigration policy to separate migrant children from their parents continues in full force, with some 2,000 kids taken by the U.S. government from mid-April to the end of May alone. There are no numbers on current separations, but visits by Democratic lawmakers and journalists to detention facilities near the border make clear the "zero tolerance" policy is still going. Here you'll find answers to all the questions about immigration and family separation you were too afraid to ask.

Some of the outrageous details have been widely reported, but these are not necessarily the details that you need to know. The real predicament many immigrants find themselves in includes forced separation from their children or parents, being detained in actual cages, and difficulties reuniting once they're released or deported. And President Trump has tried to feed misinformation about the policy to the public.

Until recently, there were more questions than answers about Trump's immigration policies. But now that lawmakers and journalists have been given access to detention facilities, a lot more is clear. Here is a look at what you need to know about what's happening in the United States right now — and what you can do about it.

1) How Many Children Have Been Separated?

The number being thrown around a lot is 2,000, but the exact total is not known. That's just the number that the AP reported that covers April 19 to May 31. Exactly 1,995 minors were separated from 1,940 adults during that time.

But that's not an exhaustive number. One of the first mention of the separations was by The New York Times on April 20. At that point, the paper had found about 700 cases from October to April of kids being separated, more than 100 under the age of 4.

The big unknown is how many have been separated so far in June. The AP reported Monday that in just one facility reporters visited in South Texas on Sunday, there were 500 migrants who were a mix of parents and kids. Under the policy, they would end up being separated, too.

2) Where Are The Kids Taken?

The path is different for each kid, depending on where they were apprehended and whether or not they have any other family members in the country.

First, they are likely taken to a detention facility similar to the one visited by reporters on Sunday. There they would be held with their parents. Then, after their parents are taken to immigration court, the children would be transferred to the care of the Office or Refugee Resettlement (ORR), under the charge of the Department of Health & Human Services (DHS).

They then contract with private shelters to house the children. This is the agency that has denied pregnant teens abortions and was accused of losing track of kids that were placed with sponsors outside of the shelter system.

One look at where kids might be housed is Casa Padre, a former Walmart that now houses some 1,500 immigrant boys.

3) Why Is This Happening?

The Trump administration has changed its policy to "zero tolerance," meaning that anyone who crosses the border without papers is charged with a crime.

That now includes parents. The Justice Department policy was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In the past, parents were not charged and put in custody for this very reason.

When the parents are detained, they are separated from their kids (as the kids aren't charged with a crime). That means that the kids are now legally unaccompanied, and the government agencies look for somewhere to place them.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations decided family separation was not something they were willing to do. Obama did increase the detention of entire families, but his administration never separated the kids to try parents separately.

4) Are They Really Living In Tent Cities?


Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke claimed around 200 kids are living in a tent city in Tornillo, Texas. However, most children are living in fenced cages at Border Patrol facilities, all inside former warehouses and other buildings protecting them from the elements. The proposal for the tent city is real, though, and it has happened in the past.

5) Are The Families Ever Reunited?

Officials have said most families are reunited after the parents serve their time for the misdemeanor illegal entry (it's often less than a day in jail). But advocates for migrants told The Houston Chronicle that there are no systems in place to keep the kids' and parents' cases tied together and then reunite them when the parents are released back to immigration officials.

Lawyers who have tried to help are given phone numbers to call, but none are to help locate children, instead the numbers reach a tipline to report immigration violations, The Chronicle reported.

6) What Happens If The Parent Is Deported?

There doesn't seem to be a clear procedure in place for reuniting the child with the parents when this happens, and it has happened. The New York Times interviewed a woman who was sent back to Guatemala without her 8-year-old son.

“I cannot convey enough how much utter chaos there is,” Michelle Brané, the director of migrant rights and justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission, told The Times. “The government does not have a proper system in place to track families and coordinate.”

7) Where Are They From?

The policy applies to anyone arriving at the border, but it ultimately affects migrants mostly from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, who are often fleeing gang violence and other horrors.

8) Did They All Cross Illegally?

Those who are being separated now all allegedly crossed the border without papers before asking for asylum. That said, asylum seekers have reportedly had trouble presenting themselves at ports of entry, where border officials don't have the resources (or refuse) to process their claims.

9) What Do Experts Say About The Trauma Of Separation?

Doctors, psychologists, social workers, and other experts agree that this separation creates "toxic stress" that can alter brain development.

"The effect of this type of event will follow these children into adulthood and into their entire lives," Dr. Ana Maria Lopez, the president of the American College of Physicians, told CNN on Thursday. "Our federal government is causing a situation that is creating a host of potential health consequences for an entire category of people."

10) What Has Trump Said About It?

Both on Twitter and in person, he has said he hates it but blamed Democrats. "I hate it. I had the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law,” Trump told reporters.

11) Is It Democrats' Fault?

No. It's a Trump administration policy to have Homeland Security recommend everyone to the DOJ for prosecution. And it's a Trump administration policy to prosecute all those recommended for prosecution. That's what ends up separating these kids from their parents.

12) So What Are Democrats Doing About It?

Democrats have been against the policy. The "Keep Families Together Act" was introduced by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. It currently has the support of all 49 Senate Democrats.

13) Who Can Stop It?

Republican senators have said that President Trump himself can stop it, and have encouraged him to do so. That would be the quickest. It could also be stopped by Congress, which could pass a law, or by the courts.

Meanwhile there is also plenty that you can do to try and help the kids that have already been separated, and put pressure on the administration to stop the policy. Learning more about it is the first step. Consider what else you can do.