The Slatest

More Evidence Emerges That Trump Intended for Family Separation to Be Permanent

Activists, including childcare providers, parents and their children, protest against the Trump administrations recent family detention and separation policies for migrants along the southern border, near the New York offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Activists, including childcare providers, parents and their children, protest against the Trump administrations recent family detention and separation policies for migrants along the southern border, near the New York offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Last month, Dahlia Lithwick argued in Slate that the government seemed to have intended its unlawful family separation policy to be permanent. On Wednesday, we got further evidence of that.

In the case of Ms. L v. ICE, Judge Dana Sabraw ruled that child separation was a violation of the due process clause of the Constitution, ordered it be brought to an end, and that the already separated families be reunitled. The government has yet to challenge this ruling and those reunifications are currently underway.

The ad hoc procedures the government has created to respond to this judicial decree have offered proof that it never intended for families to be brought back together. On Wednesday, Democratic members of the House Judiciary presented further such evidence. Ranking member Jerrold Nadler—along with Reps. Elijah Cummings and Bennie Thompson—released a joint statement saying that the Trump administration told them there had been no plan to reunite the children prior to the judicial order by Judge Sabraw last month.

“[During a Wednesday meeting], Trump Administration officials made a startling confession—they had no interagency plan in place to reunite children with their parents when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced President Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy in April,” the trio of Congressmen announced on Thursday. “Even if they believed their new policy was the right one, how could they have been so heartless not to have planned to reunite these children with their parents?”

This is a question that should haunt this country for years: Did our government plan to make effective orphans of thousands of children who came here with loving parents?

Again, the plain answer seems to be: “Yes.”

Here’s what happened when the Democratic Congressmen raised the issue with Commander Jonathan White, the Deputy Director for Children Services, Administration for Children and Families at the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

[W]hen asked whether a reunification plan was in place on April 6, 2018, Commander White answered: “There was not at that time a specialized plan.” Commander White acknowledged that the Trump Administration began more detailed planning for reunifications only when forced to do so by court order.

This is as much official information the public has been given by the administration on how its child separation came to be and what exactly it was intended to do.

While Judge Sabraw had initially indicated appreciation of the government’s efforts to craft a reunification plan, even at this late date, he has recently seemed to lose patience with these efforts. Only 57 of the more than 100 children under five were reunited near Judge Sabraw’s deadline, with the government claiming other children didn’t fall in the class group, or had parents who had gone missing after being deported or released into the United States. Earlier this week, the government acknowledged that there were 2,551 children between the ages of 5 to 17 who potentially fell within the class group and needed to be reunited with their parents by the judge’s July 26 deadline. Judge Sabraw said the government was “failing” to look out for the welfare of these children by reuniting them in a timely fashion. He also dismissed an excuse that the government was running out of space to house families together. “That is not an option,” he said. “The government will have to make space.”

With the next deadline just one week away, only 918 of those children have been cleared to be reunited. The government hasn’t been able to locate parents for 71 of those children. The government was set to update those numbers ahead of a hearing on Friday for Judge Sabraw to determine the schedule for reunification and if he would continue to bar immediate deportations of reunited families. The government had initially given the separated parents a form offering the binary choice of deportation with or without their children, with lawful asylum seeking together not presented as an option. The judge mandated the government stop using that form, and instead use one that notifies parents of their right to be reunited regardless of deportation status. But the ACLU sought a temporary restraining order halting any such deportations, because it argued that it believed the government was planning mass deportations once reunifications had taken place, potentially based on the initial, now discarded form. The judge granted the TRO pending Friday’s hearing.

As further details emerge of the horrors perpetrated on these children, the trio of Democratic House Judiciary members called for public hearings with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. It seems like such hearings are the only way we’re going to learn the full extent of what child separation meant and continues to mean. Given the Republican Party’s reluctance to hold this administration accountable for anything, a change in the majority party seems to be the only way the public is going to get any such hearings.