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Family Separation Crisis

In April 2018, Trump’s Justice Department announced a new “zero tolerance” policy for migrants seeking asylum in the United States. This policy entailed targeting asylum seekers who are parents and separating them from their children at the border, which quickly spiraled into a humanitarian crisis. The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Children and Families (ACF), specifically, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), along with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was charged with facilitating the policy. From May 5 to June 9, DHS reported that over 2,300 children were taken from their parents and brought into government custody. HHS was completely unprepared for the influx of children in their care, and the agency’s facilities quickly reached capacity, requiring a housing expansion to military bases. Reports have surfaced of children being sexually abused by staff members at ORR facilities, and at one center, two migrant children died after being physically restrained by guards. Even after being reunified with parents, many children formerly in government custody exhibit signs of severe psychological trauma.

The crisis was mired with bureaucratic failures: children separated from their parents were wrongly designated as unaccompanied minors, and HHS officials later admitted that they did not have any reunification plans in place when the separation policy began. As court-mandated deadlines ordering reunification came and went, it became clear that HHS had lied about the existence of a central database to track children’s whereabouts. No such tracking system exists, and months after the courts ordered children be returned to their families, many remained separated from their parents.