Reports of children being separated at the southern border of the U.S. have been circulating for months. Now, on account of a new U.S. policy aimed at prosecuting everyone who crosses the border illegally, more families will be ripped apart, advocates say.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the policy at a Monday afternoon news conference in Arizona, revealing that the U.S. will be prosecuting parents and separating children from them in an effort to deter families from making the trip in the first place.
“If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law," Sessions said, according to NBC News. “If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border.”
One protester with a megaphone interrupted Sessions during his announcement. “Are you going to be separating families?... Why are you doing this? Do you have a heart? Do you have a soul?” he shouted. “You’re an evil, evil, evil man!”
After their parents are charged, children will be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, which will refer them to relatives or to shelters, according to NBC News.
“Needlessly ripping kids, toddlers, babies away from their parents is inhumane, barbaric and unconstitutional,” Sandy Santana, executive director of Children’s Rights, told The Daily Beast in a statement. “An administration that purports to uphold family values is callously inflicting devastating trauma on children and families in service of its punitive immigration policies.”
“We do not, have not, and never will support the separation of families,” said Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “In fact, we will condemn it in the strongest terms.”
The Migration Policy Institute called the move an “overreaction” that may be only marginally effective in deterring people from crossing the border.
“Defining this as a crisis and a security risk is overstated,” said Doris Meissner, director of Migration Policy's U.S. Immigration Policy Program. “It may very well reduce numbers for awhile, maybe a couple of weeks. It's really a question of how the policy is enforced after that.”
This issue has been a hair raiser for those in immigration advocacy for quite some time. A study found that as of 2011, over 5,000 children were living in foster care because they were “prevented from uniting with their detained or deported parents.” According to NBC News, the Department of Homeland Security reported that 700 children have been separated from their parents since October 2017.
In January, 74 national organizations signed a letter to DHS asking them to reconsider family separation at the border.
“This proposed policy is fundamentally un-American, cruel, and breaches U.S. and international child welfare and refugee principles and laws. Family separation will only further traumatize those already fleeing harm, and will inhibit their ability to access a legal process to which they have a right,” the letter read. “Secretary Nielsen, we implore you to respect the principles of family unity and liberty in our immigration and border enforcement policies.”
The response from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, dated March 26th, pointed to situations where children were given to adult strangers to “pose as families.”
“Furthermore, those who pay smugglers in an effort to evade our immigration laws are funding the very groups that also traffic in weapons and drugs, exacting a horrible toll on both the people here in the United States and our neighbors,” read the response.