In Denial on the Family Separation Issue


By Jenny Samuels

In an interview with the LA Times published early Monday morning, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan set out to clarify CBP’s systematic practice of separating children from their parents at the border. Rather than provide real clarification, however, McAleenan’s comments continued the trend of Trump administration officials attempting to justify this unprecedented and horrific policy by spinning the truth and, worse, by making specious claims with little to no basis in fact.

When asked how CBP was handling family separations, McAleenan at first forcefully denied that an official policy regarding separating children from parents even exists: “We do not have a policy of administrative separation.” But, this is misleading. While the statement is technically true — the administration’s new “zero-tolerance” policy does not explicitly mention family separation — in practice, it is meaningless. Prosecuting every person who crosses the border somewhere other than a port of entry necessitates criminal detention. If a person has children with her, that necessitates taking the children away. As the AP has noted, “while separating families might not be official U.S. policy, it is a direct consequence of Sessions’ zero-tolerance approach.”

Tell Homeland Security to stop separating children from their families

As the interview went on, McAleenan’s statements only became more deceptive. When CBP separates families, McAleenan reasoned, it is “only if the adults are being prosecuted or if there’s a
determination made by the agent there’s not actually a family relationship, which has happened several hundred times just in the sector this year.” A moment later, McAleenan clarified that figure: In the Rio Grande Valley sector this fiscal year alone, the commissioner claimed, there have been 600 cases of people “pretend[ing] to be families even if they’re not.” According to McAleenan, hundreds of smugglers a year are snatching children to bring with them as they cross into the U.S., all in the hopes that they will avoid detention if they pretend to be a family unit.

But if this is true, why have we not seen equally large-scale prosecutions and convictions for child smuggling and trafficking?  In fact, when pressed, the government fails to provide any evidence of such convictions. While we haven’t come across evidence of any massive child smuggling schemes, what we do have ample evidence of is CBP’s relentless practice of tearing children from their actual parents without making any effort to determine the parental relationship.

There is our client, Ms. L, for example, who, despite following the government’s own instructions for seeking asylum — crossing at an official port of entry — had her 7-year-old daughter taken from her with no explanation. The two were not reunited until 4 months later, and only after the ACLU filed a lawsuit and a federal judge ordered a DNA test, which proved maternity. Then there is Mirian G., who also sought asylum at a port of entry, and yet still had her 18-month-old son taken from her for over two months. In that case, Border Patrol agents ordered Mirian to strap her baby into a car seat while refusing to answer her repeated questions about why they were being separated. When McAleenan cites hundreds of cases in which there was suspected smuggling, it undoubtedly includes stories like those of our clients.

According to McAleenan, this massive smuggling scheme — for which there is no evidence — can be traced back to what he refers to as “the catch-and-release loophole” created by the settlement of the 2015 class-action lawsuit, Flores.  In truth, though, Flores is not a loophole, it is a consent decree designed to prevent the prolonged detention of children. It requires that children be released from custody without unnecessary delay; that if they are detained, that they are kept in the “least restrictive setting” possible; and that standards be set for the basic care of children in detention. It would be perverse to cite this decades-long prohibition on jailing immigrant children as the reason for this administration’s systematic separation of families.

If the Trump administration’s real priority was to ensure the wellbeing of children, then it would not have ended the Family Case Management Program, which allowed families to be released together, but into a program that would ensure that they appeared for court proceedings. Again, this is not a loophole, but rather an alternative to family separation that prevented needless and expensive detention. Moreover, it was hugely effective: The initiative boasted a 99.6 percent appearance rate at immigration court hearings for those enrolled in the program.

Clearly, though, this administration’s priorities have never been so noble. The true purpose of family separation is clear: To treat families seeking refuge in the U.S. so poorly that fewer people will do so in the future. Try as they might, no amount of dishonesty and spin on the part of McAleenan and other administration officials could disguise that fact.

Jenny Samuels is Editorial Staff with the ACLU

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for


About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

Related posts

7 thoughts on “In Denial on the Family Separation Issue”

    1. Craig Ross

      Not sure of your point other than an admission you don’t understand either the left or the issues involved here.

      So let’s start with: most people on the left do not believe that Obama had a good recommend on immigration.

      I find it very interesting that you completely ignore the conclusion of the link you sent: “There’s nothing “friendly” about how the government is treating children and mothers fleeing brutal violence and seeking protection in the US.”

      They then quote Senator Leahy: “Incarcerating women and children fleeing violence runs contrary to our long history as a nation…”

      I’m not sure where you’re seeing a disconnect.  The previous policy was bad, this current policy is worse.

      You seem to be clueless and blindly posting a link you didn’t expect anyone to actually read.  Do you not understand the issues?

  1. CTherese Benoit

    I think it is strange that so many people care more about whose to blame and politicizing this than just acknowledging how horrifically inhumane, unnecessary, and unjustifiable it is. Can’t we all agree on that as human beings whether we love/hate one puppet president over another?

    It looks like a real sign of sickness in America that there could be any significant division over how wrong this is. And it goes a lot deeper than Republicans “being” heartless & racist. (Not all are). I think a big part of this relates to motherhood being marginalized by a lot “freedoms” programmed women believe are “liberal” and “feminist”. A conscious TRULY feminine collective would show up in greater hoardes to protest this than they would the right to abortions.

    But whoever is to blame is inconsequential. Guarantee you some kids are going to end up dying tragically from this. I only wonder how many people will continue to callously say things like “their parents did it to them” and “look at what Trump blah blah.”

    Gawd. What is wrong with people??? Yuck.

    This is so very sad. And you just know many of those children are being horrifically abused in the midst of the distress they are under. A bunch of lone cute toddlers thrown in tents and cages with a few troubled teens, overseen by officials who undoubtedly have at least a few pedophiles in the midst. (Statistics say it’s a must)… Wow.

    How can any of us sleep?

  2. Ken A

    I think it is funny how this has become a big “racial” and “partisan” issue and it seems that people forget that kids are pretty much always taken from parents (of all races) that break the law (in America and most of the western world).

    If anyone does not believe me you can take your kids and illegally sneak in to the Governor’s mansion (or fly back east with your kids and illegally hop the white house fence or illegally climb over the wall Obama build in front of his current home after moving in) and (even if you are white) you will be separated from them.

    P.S, This guy didn’t bring any kids with him but if he did they would have been sent to separate facilities:

    1. Howard P

      Hope you mean “funny” as in ironic, and not “funny” as in ha-ha… will assume that (‘irony’) is the case.

      The only “innocents” are the kids…

  3. CTherese Benoit

    Ken I don’t know if you were responding to me or the article but MY point was none of that stuff matters. There are thousands of children right now being lynched, set on fire, and hung from trees. And at least half of the people within reach of them are arguing about whose fault it is. Whose to blame is taking precedence over those who can help immediately uniting to address this EMERGENCY, regardless of political differences.

    Want tighter immigration control and a less generous asylum policy – fine, send the families home. Reject their claims. Take whatever little money they have as you send them back to their “crappy countries”. Whatever floats your boat. I could roll my eyes at THAT level of apathy and greed.

    But this is entirely different. America is literally abusing these people – by way of torturing their CHILDREN and rendering infants, toddlers, and children very vulnerable to sexual abuse and “worse”. If your soul is too dead for that NOT to disrupt your personal peace; America is spending more money to do this than it would ever cost just to send these people home…

    This is scary and so nonsensical one has to wonder whether there is not some ulterior motive or agenda at work.

    But again who cares right now? All I can think of is a three-year-old boy that looks like mine… Picture a child that looks like yours. Terrified, alone in a tent or a warehouse, crying and confused… A few strangers may try to comfort him by pretending they know he will see his parents again soon… Another stranger may comfort him and then later rape him in a bathroom when he/she can get away with it. He may even kill him if necessary to hide any evidence – not too hard to get away with in this chaos.. The 3 year old does not understand what’s happening as he waits…. for what? No one knows.

    Picture your child. And try to imagine yourself having fled your home for safety or even some small chance that maybe your child could have a better life. The sanctuary you run to has decided it is not enough to turn you away; they are going to do THIS to you and your child too instead…

    Can you put yourself in their shoes???

    ***I hope and pray none of these horrors are happening to these babies, but it would be naive not to consider them as real possibilities.

  4. John Hobbs

    “Incarcerating women and children fleeing violence runs contrary to our long history as a nation…”

    Amen. And right now I don’t care who’s to blame, I know who can fix it.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for