Two weeks ago, a Tweet brought attention to the growing crisis of the separation of asylum-seeking children from their families as they cross the border between the United States and Mexico. The details of this Tweet and President Trump’s response are detailed in this article.
However, what exactly is the zero-tolerance policy put out by the Trump administration, and what does it mean?
Here is a no-frills guide to understanding the current state of the border and why children are being separated from their families.
How many children are being separated from their families?
Before answering this question, it is important to point out that even one child being separated from his or her parents by the government is deeply troubling. Sometimes numbers and figures only make us forget the humanity of people like refugees and immigrants despite the deep capacity human beings have for empathy. If the numbers are too overwhelming or too difficult to conceive of, imagining one child taken from his or her parents is sometimes better for those seeking to understand the situation.
In total over the past eight months, 2,700 children have been separated from their parents at the border, according to Vox. The majority of these separations have occurred over the span of the last six weeks.
How do these numbers deviate from previous administrations?
Although the Trump administration has battled growing public outcry by placing blame for the separation of migrant families on other political parties (the Democrats) or former administrations (Obama), several sources indicate otherwise.
While similar issues involving immigration and families predate the Trump administration, the Obama administration is not the reason for the separation of families at the border. The Obama administration never set any precedent or implemented any procedures that required separation of children from their parents upon arrival in the United States.
The New York Times has stated that “[u]nder President Barack Obama, the authorities initially responded to a similar surge in illegal border crossings by setting up family detention centers where both children and their parents could be held together. But in response to a lawsuit against the Obama administration, a judge ruled that the Flores settlement also prohibited children from being detained with their parents.”
This ruling maintained the innocence of children crossing the border, ensuring that they were not treated as criminals or punished for decisions outside of their control. Families became an exception made by the Obama administration. The same article remarks that often, immigrant families with children were released from custody with a court date.
The Flores settlement does not mean that children of asylum-seeking families should or must be separated from their families.
The Trump administration has refused to make an exception for asylum-seeking families. Instead, they are taking children from their families and putting them under the custody of the government or foster care while their parents await trial in jail.