US still hasn’t reunited 666 children with parents after ‘zero tolerance’ at border

A federal judge ordered the government to reunite the families in 2018

Josh Marcus
Tuesday 10 November 2020 01:28
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Donald Trump: family separation policy was effective for deterring illegal immigrants

Lawyers working to reunite families separated under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the US-Mexico border told a federal judge that 666 children have still not been reconnected with their parents, NBC News reports, over 100 more than previously thought.

In June of 2018, a federal judge ordered the government to reunite families it separated within a month, a deadline it failed to reach. By the end of October 2020, lawyers said 545 children remained to be reunited with their parents.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is responsible for caring for migrant children, said all 545 had been appropriately discharged from detention. Two thirds of the 545 had their parents deported to Central America without them.

It’s not the first time there’s been a discrepancy in the numbers. Both rights groups and the HHS internal watchdog have said the government has drastically undercounted the number of children affected at times, partially because the government wasn’t initially keeping track.

Family separation began in July of 2017, when the Department of Homeland Security piloted a programme of stepped-up criminal enforcement at the El Paso sector of the Mexican border. In 2018, the administration debuted its border-wide “zero tolerance” family separation policy, under which parents were detained and prosecuted more harshly than in previous administrations, and children were removed from them to avoid limits on children’s detention and released to family members, other legal guardians, or licensed care programmes.

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Rights groups accused DHS of intentionally targeting families with children and asylum seekers under the new policy, in contravention of international law.

In June of 2018, President Trump signed an executive order halting family separation but continuing “zero tolerance,” and the government reportedly continued separating families well into 2020 under various different pretexts, such as the asylum process or nonviolent criminal offences that previously wouldn’t have led to a loss of custody.

By 2020, the number of separations topped 4,000, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement began forcing parents to separate from their children or risk being detained together during the coronavirus, which saw outbreaks at immigration detention facilities across the country.  

President-elect Biden has said he wants to establish a task force to reunite all migrant families separated under Trump administration policies.

In early 2017, the administration first announced it was considering a family separation policy as a way to deter further migration, though it later denied it had a family separation policy at all

Family separation is a policy approach analogous to the “prevention through deterrence” strategy of using harsh enforcement tactics as a way to stop future migrants. Under prevention through deterrence, border patrol authorities used walls and militarised checkpoints at the US-Mexico border, fortifying  common entry points to push migrants further into the desert back-country where crossing would be more lethal and thus provide a deterrent.

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