In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced U.S. will prosecute all immigrants who try to enter the country unlawfully. Since then, the zero-tolerance policy has succeeded in snatching away hundreds of children from their parents’ arms in just two weeks.
According to a lead attorney with American Civil Liberties Union, the number may even range in the thousands.
“I think it’s between 1,500 and 2,000,” Attorney Lee Gelernt told the Intercept.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government over asylum seekers’ family separation and at that time, put the number of children separated from parents between 400 and 500, according to the attorney. In April, the New York Times reported findings of data provided by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, claiming “more than 700 children have been taken from adults claiming to be their parents since October, including more than 100 children under the age of four.”
Richard Hudson, Deputy Chief of the Operations Program for Customs and Border Protection, also testified in front of the Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration, two weeks after Sessions’ immigration order, “658 children with 638 adults” were placed “in the prosecution process.” That means, the total number of children impacted by the new policy in just two weeks is equivalent to the number of children in the previous seven months. In addition to the 700 cases reported by the New York Times in April, the total number of children taken away from the parents equals 1,358.
Hudson said this horrific rate of separation may continue into the future.
“I think we’re closing in on 2,000 probably very soon, if not already,” attorney Gelernt echoed the sentiments. “They were already prosecuting families before the Sessions announcement, but now he formalized it and stepped it up so that there’s just so many people who are losing their children.”
An unnamed Department of Homeland Security senior official said the numbers ring true.
“It is definitely possible,” they said. “We are seeing it every day here now… Family separation is not only a cruel and barbaric practice meant to deter asylum-seekers from exercising their legal right to seek protection in the United States, but it is also an abrogation of our responsibilities under international law.”
The official also argued that by continuing this barbaric practice that harms children, the United States is violating international law.
“In no way can anyone argue that tearing a screaming child from the arms of their parent is in that child’s best interests,” the officialsaid.
Top Trump officials have argued the kids are separated from parents all the time, particularly if they pass through the criminal justice system. They also said if migrants present themselves at lawful ports of entry, their children will not be taken away. However, Gelernt argued parents who have committed a crime and served their punishment have faced delays getting their kids back or not gotten them at all. He also said parents who arrive at the lawful ports of entry — exactly what the government recommended — still had their kids taken away.
Last month, it was revealed the U.S. government lost almost 1,500 unaccompanied immigrant minors who were placed with sponsors. The government has no idea where the kids are or even if they are alive or dead — yet refuses to take responsibility for the catastrophe.
Banner/Thumbnail credit: REUTERS/Loren Elliott