A new report from the House Oversight Committee released today offers new insight into the controversial “zero tolerance” family separation practice the Trump Administration had in place at our southern border. The 38-page report sheds new light on the extent of the trauma faced by children and families seeking asylum, including details about the separation of 18 infants and toddlers under the age of two.
“The Committee’s investigation of the Trump Administration’s child separations has revealed harm inflicted on children beyond what was previously known, has refuted the Administration’s justification for this cruel policy, and has confirmed the ongoing trauma inflicted by these separations,” the report’s conclusion states. “The Administration executed a deliberate policy to take thousands of babies, infants, toddlers, and children away from their parents and transfer them to government custody, in some cases in deplorable conditions.”
The “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy, announced by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April 2018, was a policy that would prosecute every single adult who attempted to cross the border or seek asylum. This meant that families who came to the border would be separated from their children, due to an existing policy that did not allow those awaiting criminal prosecution to be detained alongside minors. The policy resulted in the separation of thousands of migrant families without a clear way to reunite them after prosecution or before deportation. The policy was so unpopular that, by June 26, President Trump announced that he would be ending the policy and keeping families together.
As the House Oversight Committee’s report reveals, the repercussions of the policy are still coming to light. The report covers the children who were separated starting from April 2018 and still in custody as of June of last year. It does not cover the “thousands of additional children” who may have been separated before April of 2018 or the 700 or more children who have been separated since the policy was officially reversed. During that time, however, more than 2,500 children were separated from their parents in the midst of the policy, hundreds of whom still haven’t been reunited.
According to the report, at least 18 infants and toddlers under the age of two were separated from their parents at the border; half of those infants were under that age of one. These children were kept from their parents anywhere from 20 days to six months, and at least 241 children were kept longer in Border Patrol facilities than the legally allowed 72 hours.
In addition, the report found that some 700 were kept for 36 to 75 days, and more than 50 were held for six months to a year. Over two dozen have been held for more than a year, and many children were moved multiple times around multiple facilities. For example, nearly 500 children were moved around more than one Border Protection facility and nearly 100 were moved around different Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities.
Even the separated children who were reunited with their families were still held in detention centers beyond the 20-day limit. The report also states that many children were separated from their parents unnecessarily. The spoken rationale of the Trump administration was that separations were necessary to prosecute parents who brought their children to the border. However, many parents who were separated from their kids were never even sent to criminal custody and prosecutors often declined to prosecute their cases. In a handful of instances, the report found, parents were readmitted to facilities they had been removed from just hours after their removal — but their kids were already gone.
The report also points to the obvious: child separations have continued under the Trump administration. At least 700 children have been separated from their parents since Trump claimed to have ended the family separation policy. These children are stuck in government-run and privately-run detention centers that are overcrowded and unsafe, and many were sent to a tent city in Tornillo, Texas, which the Inspector General referred to as potentially unsafe for children due to understaffing and lack of background checks on existing staff. Not only were children detained beyond the legal limit, but the administration also moved children from facility to facility, making reunification with their parents far more difficult. There are children still in custody who have not been reunited with their parents. They have been held for over a year.
This new report makes one thing very clear: the more information that surfaces about the events that took place, the more tragic the situation becomes.