On May 7, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared that the U.S. Department of Justice would begin a “zero-tolerance policy” of prosecuting anyone caught trying to illegally cross into the Untied States. That has made a regular practice of immigrant children separated from their parents forcibly at the border.
“If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you,” Sessions said. “If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring him across the border illegally.”
This means the United States is currently arresting about 1,000 undocumented immigrants attempting to illegally cross the U.S. border each week, putting a strain on the border court systems, jails and detention centers where these people are held until their court date.
These immigrant children separated from their parents are as young as 18 months, The Washington Post reports. They are officially designated “unaccompanied alien children” by the U.S. government and put into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), part of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Some parents are told they’ll be reunited with their kids following questioning, which is a lie because the parents are immediately sent to jail. The ORR then sends the immigrant children to a government-run immigration detention facility (where they reportedly face verbal, physical and sexual abuse), to reside with relatives living in the United States (if they have any) or to live in foster care with a family of random strangers.
Because the parents of these separated children don’t have phone access in jail, they aren’t told where their kids are or how to get in contact with them after they’re released.
In the courtroom, parents face a hard choice: plead guilty to (potentially) reunite with their kids more quickly (though being convicted of a crime lowers their chances of getting legal asylum in America) or plead not guilty and spend days, weeks or months separated from their kids until their case comes to trial.
No matter which they choose, there’s no guarantee they’ll ever see their kids again.
The New York Times recently found that 1,475 kids torn away from their parents had gone missing, raising worries that these immigrant children could have disappeared into the hands of human traffickers.
The United Nations human rights office has called Trump’s policy of separating immigrant families “unlawful” and considers it “child rights violations.” Sessions, however, says he hopes the policy acts as a detractor for anyone trying to enter the United States illegally.
What do you think of these tales of immigrant children separated from their families at the border? Sound off in the comments.
Featured image by Reuters/Loren Elliott