What You Need to Know About Family Separation at the Border

Since the beginning of May, 2,342 children have been separated from their parents after trying to cross the border between the United States and Mexico. These numbers continue to grow as the Trump administration doubles down on this controversial immigration policy. In light of the widespread outcry that has been prompted by the images of immigrant children being kept at detention centers, we explain what you need to know about family separations taking place at the border.

Does Trump’s Administration Have a Policy that Separates Families at the Border?

In short, yes, the Trump Administration has a policy that incudes prosecuting parents traveling with their children. In fact, this policy extends to those seeking asylum as well. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered prosecutors to “adopt immediately a zero-tolerance policy" for all illegal border crossings. Under this policy, White House officials have repeatedly acknowledged that families trying to cross the border are in fact separated as a form of deterrence for others looking to come to the United States illegally.

Separating families at the border is a practice that is unique to the Trump administration. Prior administrations generally didn’t separate families illegally crossing the border. Trump and his administration can choose to end this practice and reunite families at any time.

What Happens When a Family is Separated?

While the process starts at Border Patrol detention facilities, many of the details about what comes next remains unclear. The Texas Civil Rights Project was able to speak with detained adults and reported that multiple parents were separated from their kids without ever being given any information about where their children would end up. Some parents also reported that their children were taken away after they were told they would be getting a bath.

After they have been separated from their parents, the policy for treating these children seems to be similar to existing systems for detaining and housing unaccompanied minor immigrants who cross the border alone.

Where Do the Children Go After They Have Been Separated From Their Parents?

The answer to this question varies. Some children are transferred to long-term shelters where they are supposed to eventually be placed with other families or sponsors.

  • Border Patrol Facilities: Children are usually held here first, but can’t be kept for longer than three days. Border Patrol facilities have been criticized before for their poor conditions and reports of abuse and inhumane treatment.
  • Child Immigrant Shelters: After the three day period, children are transferred from the detention center to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). ORR has a network of about 100 shelter facilities where detained children are sent to. According to ORR, children stay less than 57 days on average, though some children have been detained longer than that.
  • Tent Camps: With ORR shelters filling up, a temporary facility has since been set up in Tornillo, Texas, close to El Paso. Because reporters have not been allowed inside, not much is known about this facility. While it’s not clear how many minors are inside, the government plans to expand it to hold close to 4,000 detained minors.
  • Sponsors or Family Members: ORR tries to find family members, foster parents, or sponsors to take in minor children. While their parents are the preferred option, it’s not always possible when they remain in detention. Sponsors and family members also face increased scrutiny, such as fingerprinting and criminal background checks when picking up minor children.

Can Parents Who Have Been Prosecuted Be Reunited with Their Children?

If the parents are released from detention, they can eventually take custody of their own children. However, lawyers and advocates warn that there is no formal process or protocol that tracks parents and children within the system. This inadequate record keeping is creating chaos because it is difficult to know which facility a child might be at. According to some reports, parents have been deported without their children.

Have you been separated from a loved one who was detained at the border? Our Fort Lauderdale immigration attorneys can help you. Call (888) 900-1748 today to schedule a consultation with our legal team.