During the first six weeks of the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy nearly 2,000 children were separated from their parents at the U.S. border with Mexico.
A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said on Friday that the separations took place from April 19 to May 31 of this year.
The zero tolerance policy was announced by the Department of Justice in April. It requires that children be separated from their parents or legal guardians when the adults have been referred to the DHS to be prosecuted for entering the United States illegally.
Various news reports have been critical of the policy and especially the way that the separations were done. A CNN story said that babies were taken from mothers while they were breast feeding their infants.
During Friday’s briefing with the news media the DHS officials complained that news reports were exaggerated and inaccurate.
“We do not separate breastfeeding children from their parents. That does not exist, that’s not a policy, that’s not something that DHS does,” a DHS official said during the briefing. DHS officials then said that they had “no choice” but to separate parents and children at the border because the law required it.
The Trump Administration has consistently told the public that they are legally required to separate children from parents but this is false. It is not a law but a Trump policy being implemented and enforced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Previous presidential administrations have found ways to keep families together without taking away children form their parents. It is possible that children stay with parents who have been detained for immigration violations even while they work their way through immigration courts.
Until now, separating parents from children was rare. It was used in the past only for cases where the safety of a child was threatened. The new policy has been heavily criticized by almost everyone: Democrats, Republicans, Christian groups and medical doctors, who said that when children are taken away from their parents they are likely to suffer permanent damage.
Sessions spoke to a group of law enforcement officers on Thursday and told them that the migrant families were to blame for their children being taken away. He said that his department’s actions were not “unusual or unjustified.” He even claimed that the Bible gave him authority to do what he was doing.
“If you cross the southwest border unlawfully, then the Department of Homeland Security will arrest you and the Department of Justice will prosecute you. That is what the law calls for — and that is what we are going to do,” Sessions said.
President Donald Trump on Friday tried to distance himself from his own policies. He also once again tried to put the blame on Democrats in Congress for causing the problem. This claim is a very clear falsehood that has been put forth many times before by him and other members of his administration.
“I hate children being taken away. That’s the Democrats,” the president lied, while standing on the White House lawn.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.