The number of illegal aliens apprehended by US security forces on the border with Mexico dropped nearly 20% last month. The drop includes fewer unaccompanied minors as well as family units trying to illegally cross over the border. This number also includes those caught between the ports of entry. Can the Trump administration’s Zero Tolerance policy be credited for the drop? A Department of Homeland Security spokesman gives credit to the policy.
In a statement, Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Tyler Q. Houlton touted the “zero tolerance” and said the government would continue to enforce current immigration laws while Congress debates a change to the current system.
“As we have said before, the journey north is dangerous and puts individuals in the hands of smugglers and traffickers,” Houlton said. “We continue to call on Congress to address the crisis at the border by closing legal loopholes that drive illegal immigration.”
The number dropped from 40,338 in May to 34,114 last month. Trump’s Zero Tolerance policy means that criminal charges are brought against anyone illegally entering the U.S. Children cannot be kept with adults in detention, so family separation became a concern. After the open borders crowd latched onto the images of very young children being held in facilities on the border without their parents, people on both sides of the political aisle voiced objections to the Zero Tolerance policy. No one regardless of political leanings wants to see children traumatized further after their parents or guardians (or traffickers) have subjected them to such a brutal journey in the first place.
Meanwhile, a federal judge in California has ruled that the administration must reunite children with their families within 30 days. Children younger than 5 years old must be reunited within 14 days. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego, a George W. Bush appointee, also ruled that future family separations be stopped unless the adult is deemed unfit or doesn’t want to be with the child. The government must also provide telephone contact between the adult and child within 10 days.
The federal ruling in San Diego is in response to a lawsuit filed by an anonymous woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was separated from her 17-year-old girl and by a Brazilian mother separated from her 14-year-old. It was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which pursued it as a class action after U.S. authorities began a “zero tolerance” policy in early May toward people crossing the border.
Though the Trump administration has said that full cooperation will be given to the court order on reuniting families separated at the border, they have now filed a request for more time to comply in the most difficult of cases.
The Trump administration is now working to reunite roughly 3,000 migrant children who have been placed in the custody of HHS with their parents — both those who were separated under the zero-tolerance policy and before. So far, they have matched 40 parents in immigration custody with some of the 101 children under 5 years old, and another 9 parents have been located in criminal custody, the Washington Post reports.
In the court filing, the Trump administration notes that if parents have already been released from ICE detention — or have already been reported — it will likely be much more difficult for them to ensure their unification with their child. The administration also asked for clarification on whether they are required to unite children with parents who have already been deported.
The task of family reunification is difficult because the border has been overwhelmed with people illegally migrating to the border. The facilities and law enforcement in place at the border are not equipped to handle the excess.
In court records, the agencies said they were not prepared to track the separated parents and children, which partly delayed their efforts to reunite them.
A Justice Department lawyer told the judge Friday that reunions should happen swiftly for approximately half of the 101 children younger than 5 who are being held in shelters.
“There are then some groups for whom the reunification process is more difficult,” lawyer Sarah Fabian told the judge. “In some cases if we’re not, for example, aware of where the parent is, I can’t commit to saying that reunification will be able to occur by the deadline.”
DNA samples will be used to solve the more difficult cases. Background checks must be made, too. This all takes time. It is as though opponents of the Trump administration are blind to the very real problem of human trafficking at the border. Many minors are brought by adults not related to them but by adults with nefarious intentions. These children must be protected.
Advocates for immigrants have blasted the Trump administration, suggesting officials have created bureaucratic obstacles to delay the reunions. Authorities say they are conducting DNA testing and background checks to protect children as required by a bipartisan anti-trafficking law enacted in 2008.
The rapid escalation of family separation outcomes was the administration’s own doing, to be sure, but Trump ran for office on strict law enforcement. He campaigned on border security and enforcing the laws on the books. His administration’s Zero Tolerance policy was a result of keeping those campaign pledges. Now it is Congress’ turn to solve the family separation outcomes by fixing the statutes that create them when laws are enforced properly.