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U.S. Politics Families separated, children detained: What we know so far about Trump’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy

June 18, 2018: Immigrant children are led by staff in single file between tents at a detention facility next to the Mexican border in Tornillo,Texas.

MIKE BLAKE/Reuters

The latest

  • Authorities must reunite migrant families that have been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border within 14 to 30 days, a federal judge ruled Tuesday amid confusion over the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy for illegal crossings.
  • District Court Judge Dana Sabraw granted an injunction to the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit against U.S. President Donald Trump's policy. Judge Sabraw ruled that children under five must be reunited with their parents within 14 days of the order, and children aged five and up within 30 days.
  • A day earlier, the U.S. border agency had effectively halted the "zero tolerance" policy, refusing to send new cases to prosecution. For now, many of those families will be released pending their court dates, not separated as they were previously.
  • The Trump administration insists that "zero tolerance" is still in effect, but it needs more resources from Congress to enforce the policy, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday. "This will only last a short amount of time," she said.
  • Mr. Trump's hard-line immigration policies got a major boost in the courts on Monday, when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of his ban on travel from a list of mostly Muslim-majority countries. Here's a primer on the long legal battle to stop that policy.

In a photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people sit in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas. A Trump administration policy has put more migrants crossing the southern U.S. border into detention, often separating children from parents who are detained awaiting trial.

The Associated Press

What is this policy, and what does it do?

How it started: On April 6, the Trump administration announced new measures, taking effect in May, to criminally prosecute more people caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally through its southwestern border. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions described it as a “zero tolerance policy,” blaming an increase in migrant crossings and Congress’s failure to pass legislation supporting Mr. Trump’s wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The policy had dramatic consequences for families crossing with children: More adults were jailed, pending trial, so their children are removed from them. More than 2,300 minors were separated from their families at the border from May 5 through June 9, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Is the policy still in effect? That depends on who you ask. Under fierce public and international pressure, Mr. Trump signed an executive order to stop the family separations, but he insisted “zero tolerance” was still the official policy. But U.S. Customs and Border Protection has temporarily stopped referring new families for prosecution, saying it lacks the guidance and resources to prosecute adults with children without also splitting up their families.

What it was like before: Before the policy, many people who were accused of illegal entry and did not have a criminal record were merely referred for civil deportation proceedings, which generally did not break up families.

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What's happening to the children: In South Texas, children are being warehoused in detention facilities where hundreds of migrants detained at the border are being held in metal cages. Hundreds of others have been placed with sponsors in the United States, raising worries that they could be used as child labour or become prey to human traffickers. As of June 25, more than 500 children had been reunited with their families, but there were still hundreds more waiting for their reunions. Efforts to reunite the families got added urgency on June 26, when a U.S. district court judge ruled that separated children should be returned to their parents within 14 to 30 days.

Is this connected to those “missing” children I heard about in May? Not exactly. In April, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services told a Senate subcommittee that the agency had lost track of some 1,500 migrant children that had been in its custody and then released to sponsors. But those were children who arrived alone at the U.S. border before the zero-tolerance policy was introduced, not children who came with parents and were forcibly separated from them. When news of the official’s testimony went viral a month after the fact, many people mistakenly conflated the children’s cases with the zero-tolerance policy, thinking one was the direct result of the other. For more background, here’s a New York Times explainer fact-checking the response to their original reporting.

Immigration policy on the ground

In a photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who have been taken into custody rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas.

The Associated Press

On June 17, the U.S. Border Patrol allowed reporters a brief visit to an old warehouse in South Texas where detained children and adults were held. Reporters were not allowed to interview any of the detainees or take pictures of them.

Associated Press journalists saw hundreds of children waiting in a series of cages created by metal fencing. More than 1,100 people were inside the large, dark facility that’s divided into separate wings for unaccompanied children, adults on their own and mothers and fathers with children. One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about were bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets. The cages in each wing opened out into common areas to use portable restrooms. The overhead lighting in the warehouse stayed on around the clock.

A whistleblower and the news organization ProPublica gave harrowing evidence of the children’s emotional state, releasing an audio file from a U.S. immigration facility in which Spanish-speaking children are heard crying out for their parents.

The youngest children, ages five and under, are being kept at “tender age” shelters in South Texas, Associated Press reported, citing lawyers and medical providers who had visited those facilities in Combes, Raymondville and Brownsville. Doctors and lawyers who visited the shelters said the facilities were fine, clean and safe, but the kids – who have no idea where their parents are – were hysterical, crying and acting out in crowded play rooms. “The shelters aren’t the problem, it’s taking kids from their parents that’s the problem,” said South Texas pediatrician Marsha Griffin.

Starting some time in July, the Defence Department is housing as many as 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children on military bases. A Pentagon memo obtained by Associated Press said the Department of Health and Human Services would be responsible for caring for the children, including supervision, meals, clothing, medical services, transportation and other daily needs.

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In McAllen, Texas, a four-year-old Honduran girl carries a doll while walking with her immigrant mother after both were released from detention through the "catch and release" policy.

LOREN ELLIOTT/Getty Images

Immigration policy by the numbers

SOUTHWEST BORDER FAMILY UNIT

APPREHENSIONS, FISCAL YEAR-TO-DATE

2018, BY SECTOR

1

2

3

4

5

San Diego

El Centro

Yuma

Tucson

El Paso

1,996

1,613

8,775

4,765

2,806

6

7

8

9

Big Bend

Del Rio

Laredo

Rio Grande

543

1,509

361

36,745

Calif.

N.M.

Tex.

Ariz.

9

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

MEXICO

0

300

KM

Family unit apprehensions by country,

fiscal year-to-date 2018

Guatemala

29,278

Honduras

20,675

El Salvador

7,167

Mexico

1,461

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS;

HIU; U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION

SOUTHWEST BORDER FAMILY UNIT

APPREHENSIONS, FISCAL YEAR-TO-DATE

2018, BY SECTOR

1

2

3

4

5

San Diego

El Centro

Yuma

Tucson

El Paso

1,996

1,613

8,775

4,765

2,806

6

7

8

9

Big Bend

Del Rio

Laredo

Rio Grande

543

1,509

361

36,745

Calif.

N.M.

Tex.

Ariz.

9

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

MEXICO

0

300

KM

Family unit apprehensions by country,

fiscal year-to-date 2018

Guatemala

29,278

Honduras

20,675

El Salvador

7,167

1,461

Mexico

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS;

HIU; U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION

SOUTHWEST BORDER FAMILY UNIT APPREHENSIONS,

FISCAL YEAR-TO-DATE 2018, BY SECTOR

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

San Diego

El Centro

Yuma

Tucson

El Paso

Big Bend

Del Rio

Laredo

Rio Grande

1,996

1,613

8,775

4,765

2,806

543

1,509

361

36,745

ARIZONA

CALIFORNIA

NEW MEXICO

TEXAS

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

Family unit apprehensions by country,

fiscal year-to-date 2018

Guatemala

29,278

MEXICO

Honduras

20,675

El Salvador

7,167

Mexico

1,461

0

150

KM

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP

CONTRIBUTORS; HIU; U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION

Fact-checking Trump’s claims

Even before announcing on June 20 that he would reverse the policy, U.S. President Donald Trump said he found its effects distasteful: “I hate the children being taken away,” he told reporters last Friday. But he also blamed the Democrats for the policy’s existence, echoing past false claims that the Democrats are at fault: “ The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.“

There is, in fact, no law mandating the separation of children and parents at the border. U.S. protocol simply discourages detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.

Mr. Trump’s repeated, but nonspecific, references to a Democratic law appear to involve one enacted in 2008. Passed unanimously in Congress and signed by Republican president George W. Bush, it was focused on freeing and otherwise helping children who come to the border without a parent or guardian. It does not call for family separation.

Watch: U.S. President Donald Trump claims on June 18 that Democrats are obstructing efforts to stop the zero-tolerance immigration policy.

Mr. Trump also tried to justify his policy by pointing to Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition is struggling to reach a European deal on migration. He has repeated false claims that German crime rates were on the rise (according to the most recent official statistics, they’ve fallen to the lowest level since 1992) and that immigration is to blame (in 2017, crimes committed by non-German nationals were down 23 per cent compared with the year before).

Mr. Trump’s defences of the family separations failed to quell public anger and political opposition, so on June 20 he signed an executive order to detain families together in special facilities set up by the Defense Department, saying “this will solve that problem” of family separations. That’s an overstatement: Instead, the order puts U.S. authorities in a difficult legal bind. According to a 1990s-era legal precedent called the Flores settlement, children can’t be held in detention for longer than 20 days, and if their parents’ cases drag on longer than that, the detention centres would either have to keep the children indefinitely (which is unlawful) or release them (which would separate the families and violate the executive order).

Where Congress and Republicans stand

Democrat lawmakers ramped up pressure on the Trump administration to change the policy and prevent families from being separated. Even within Republican ranks, the policy divided Mr. Trump’s camp of usual allies: Former first lady Laura Bush called the policy “cruel” and “immoral,” Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said it is “traumatizing to the children who are innocent victims, and it is contrary to our values in this country,” and former Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci said in a weekend interview that “t he president is going to get hurt by this issue if it stays out there very, very long.”

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GOP lawmakers, increasingly fearful of a voter backlash in November, met with Mr. Trump for about an hour on June 19 at the Capitol to try to find a solution that both holds to Mr. Trump’s hard-line immigration policy and ends the family separations. The next day, he signed the executive order, drawn up by his Homeland Security chief, that he said would end the separations.

What could happen next?

The U.S. flag flies in front of the Capitol dome in Washington.

The Associated Press

Under Mr. Trump’s June 20 executive order, ”zero tolerance” is still in effect in theory, but in practice, officials on the border are still figuring out what to do. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has stopped referring new family cases to prosecution, agency chief Kevin McAleenan announced on June 25. He says he is working to develop a plan to resume illegally entry prosecutions of adults with children.

Meanwhile, House Republicans have two rival immigration bills in progress, and Mr. Trump says he would support either one. But it’s uncertain if Trump’s support will be enough to push any legislation through the divided GOP majority.

Even if Republicans manage to pass an immigration bill through the House, the fight is all but certain to fizzle in the Senate. Without Democratic support, Republicans cannot muster the 60 votes needed to move forward on legislation. Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader from New York, is adamant that Mr. Trump can end the family separations on his own and that legislation is not needed.

Commentary and analysis

What we can do for separated migrant children in the U.S.

Sarah Kendzior: The unspeakable cruelty of Trump’s child-migrant camps

Amanda DiPaolo: Canada must end its safe third country agreement with the U.S.

André Picard: Trump’s zero-tolerance policy inflicts anguish on kids – with toxic health impacts

David Shribman: Imbroglio over immigration stands as a symbol of multiple aspects of contemporary America

Lawrence Martin: Will the caging of kids finally sink Trump? Don’t bet on it

Globe editorial: With his policy on immigrant children, Trump shows he has no limits



Associated Press, with reports from Reuters, The Canadian Press, Adrian Morrow, Tamsin McMahon and Evan Annett

Compiled by Globe staff

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