Frontera Fund News Trump Watch

Republicans Are Ripping Apart Immigrant Families in Campaign to Spread Fear

Family Detention
Photo credit: US Customs and Border Protection

The “family values” party is tearing apart parents and young children, sending unaccompanied minors back to the hands of the murderers they are fleeing, and charging undocumented parents who bring their children to the U.S. with human smuggling. It’s all part of the Trump administration’s effort to deter immigration by terrifying parents who are in many cases fleeing for their families’ lives.

News outlets have reported recently that the administration is “considering” separating families caught crossing the border illegally. While they may be weighing a widespread policy of ripping apart families, they are in fact already doing this quietly.

The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project stated recently, “We have seen an alarming increase in the number of parents and children who have been separated at the border. We’ve identified over 155 cases of immigration authorities separating parents from their children, even children as young as two years old.”

Families are given little to no information about what happens to their spouses, children or siblings, including how to locate or contact them.

The Florence Project, along with the American Immigration Council and several legal groups, filed a complaint demanding that the Department of Homeland Security investigate this inhuman practice.

“[My 3-year-old son, Sami] begged to not be taken away and put his arms around me. I grasped him firmly in my arms. I told the officials that I would not give him up, and that they would have to take him from me. Then, one of the officers came up to me and with both hands forcefully pulled him out of my arms.” –Federico, a Honduran asylum seeker who has not been able to contact Sami since

Here are just three of these harrowing stories:

Maria fled Guatemala with her husband and two children after their other child was murdered by a gang. Soon after they arrived at the border, Maria was taken away from her family and had to wait 10 days for any information about their whereabouts. She was then told her children had been separated from their father and sent to a shelter in New York.

Angelo and his 1-year-old son, Tobias, fled El Salvador to seek asylum in the U.S. and were put into detention. Angelo reports that immigration officials repeatedly pressured him and other fathers to give up their children. One officer threatened to “take action” if the fathers did not obey, saying that “they should not make their children witness violence.” Eventually officers took Tobias away from Angelo without his consent. Angelo has not heard anything about Tobias since that day in November.

After receiving threats from gang members, Sofia and her husband, Luis, fled Guatemala with their sons Rodrigo, 5, and Jaime, 1, to seek asylum in the United States. Luis and Rodrigo entered first, were separated at the border and sent to different detention centers. Sofia and Jaime were sent to yet another detention center. “When I finally spoke to Rodrigo, we both cried,” Sofia says. “He seemed very upset. He asked why his father had left him… He is far too young to be separated from his parents.”

Separating families is obviously a vicious and traumatizing practice that should not be undertaken by any country, let alone a country that claims to uphold ethical values and revere the family.

Separating families is also unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court holds that the right to family unity is “perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by [the Supreme] Court.” The Constitution also does not allow the government to punish individuals in an attempt to change the behavior of other individuals. Furthermore, the Constitution requires evidence supporting the motivation behind certain federal actions. There is no evidence that separating families deters other families from immigrating. The majority of families who immigrate or seek asylum together are not seeking the American Dream; they are fleeing certain or almost certain death.

“Alex [an immigrant father] frequently would sob uncontrollably about the experience in CBP custody and reported severe anxiety attacks. The foster parent caring for [his] toddler child has reported that the child has also had severe anxiety attacks for a toddler and has been unable to sleep at night due to the separation from the parent.” –a representative from the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

This isn’t the only way the Trump administration is using children as pawns in a cruel and deadly immigration agenda. Last year, the administration announced that unaccompanied minors arriving in the U.S. would no longer be protected from deportation. The vast majority of youth who brave the perilous journey north are fleeing horrific violence and seeking asylum. When they are deported, they must go back to the countries where their lives were threatened. 

As if all of that weren’t bad enough, the government is also prosecuting the relatives who are trying to protect these children. The administration is considering instituting the extreme vetting of adults who come to pick up the children after they are detained. They are also proposing random spot checks of the homes where the children are taken.

Last summer, ICE arrested more than 400 parents, guardians and other family members of children apprehended at the border. Some of them had paid coyotes to reunite them with their children and were charged with human smuggling. Others were merely relatives who had agreed to take in children who made the journey on their own.

The U.S. government’s shameful acts against families must be exposed, fought and stopped.