Tensions continue to mount over the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy. On Tuesday, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson announced that, statistically, the Trump family separation policy removes 65 children from their parents every single day. This is up from initial reports which estimated that just under 2,000 children were being detained.
The separations are the result of a Trump administration policy which requires that every undocumented person caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border be prosecuted. The offense has long been a misdemeanor, but being caught has not always guaranteed prosecution. Oftentimes, families were released together to await any additional judicial proceedings.
As of last month, that has changed. Statements made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the DHS early in May announced that a new "zero-tolerance policy" would be put in place. Because children cannot be kept in jails, those caught crossing the border with undocumented adults are being turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
On Tuesday, DHS officials said that 2,342 children were separated from their parents along the border between May 5 and June 9, according to The Washington Post. The children were then reclassified as “Unaccompanied Alien Children” and placing them in foster care with HHS.
Until Tuesday, the figures indicated that nearly 2,000 children had been separated from their families between April 19 and May 31, according to Vox. That number, however, included separations from April, approximately two weeks before the zero-tolerance policy was announced. According to the math, that means an average of 65 children are now being taken from their families every day.
The children are being held in various detention centers, which politicians and journalists have had limited access to. According to the Trump administration, the separations would stop only if Congress passes legislation to do so. However, Trump has consistently made the false claim that the separations are legally required, or that they are the result of a law implemented by Democrats. It's not true, though — there is no law requiring the separation of families caught illegally crossing the U.S. border.
On Monday, DHS Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen made similar claims, arguing at a White House press briefing that her department was only following the law. When asked if the separations were intended to send a message, she said that she found such a question "offensive."
In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that if a person was "smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law." He added, "If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border."
DHS made a similar announcement several days prior. "DHS has zero tolerance for those who break the law and will no longer exempt classes or groups of individuals from prosecution," Press Secretary Tyler Houlton said in a statement. "Whether you are a single adult or an adult member of a family unit, if you are apprehended you will be prosecuted and put in removal proceedings."
The policy has drawn ire from both sides of the isle. As of Monday, every single living former first lady, including current first lady Melania Trump, has spoken out against the family separations. Sen. Kamala Harris has also flatly called for Sec. Nielsen's resignation because of how she has handled the catastrophe.
Congress is reportedly working on several legislative solutions to combat the familial separations, but it's unclear whether or not any of them will ultimately pass. On Twitter, Trump has continued to paint the family separations as a party issue.