The Trump administration separated nearly 2,000 immigrant children from parents or guardians at the border over the span of six weeks, a Department of Homeland Security official said on Friday.
The administration is under intense scrutiny over its current crackdown at the border, which is aimed at prosecuting as many people as possible for illegal entry ― even if it means splitting children from their parents.
From April 19 through May 31, border officials separated 1,995 children from 1,940 adults with whom they were traveling, a DHS official told reporters, confirming numbers first reported by The Associated Press.
President Donald Trump has claimed the family separations are not his fault, even though they are happening because of his own administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal border-crossing. Under that policy, families apprehended after crossing the border without authorization are being separated so the parents can be jailed, rather than kept together and put directly into immigration proceedings.
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The Justice Department remains far from attaining the goal of universally prosecuting all illegal border crossings, though a DOJ official told reporters that the percentage of people caught crossing the border illegally who were hauled into federal court has more than doubled since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the change last month.
But regardless of whether prosecutors can take all the cases, officials insist that family members will no longer be exempted from facing criminal charges, meaning that family separations at the border will continue.
DHS and DOJ officials, who declined to comment by name on the call with reporters, accused opponents of the policy of misrepresenting the facts and of arguing for special treatment for immigrant parents. They argued that splitting families to prosecute parents for illegal entry, which is a misdemeanor for first-time offenders, is no different than jailing someone for another type of crime away from their children.
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“They want illegal aliens to get better rights than U.S. citizens have,” one official said of critics.
There is no law that requires the government to separate families on the border, although Trump has repeatedly falsely claimed it is a result of laws passed by Democrats. While illegal entry is a crime, prior administrations have largely avoided prosecuting parents. This didn’t mean they avoided consequences ― they still faced deportation ― but it prevented large-scale family separation.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.