Child Separations Continue as Pentagon Seeks Housing

More than 200 migrant minors have been taken from their families or relatives and located in institutional care centers far away from them, despite the Trump administration’s decision to roll back its policy of separating undocumented families from their children nine months ago.

A report from The New York Times on March 9 revealed that 245 children were removed from their families even after the White House rescinded its “zero tolerance” border enforcement policy. Some of the most recent separations do not provide a form of tracking the minors’ whereabouts, the publication noted. The Times’ figures come from a federal judge tasked with overseeing one of the most controversial policies of Trump's presidency.

The new separations occur as Border Patrol officials detained nearly 76,103 migrants in February, reaching an 11-year high for the same month. Of the migrants apprehended last month, 40,000 were family members — two-thirds more than in January, the Times reported.

The administration’s practice of family separation faced bipartisan pressure. Since its inception in the spring of 2018, the “zero tolerance” policy may have separated at least 3,000 children by the government’s measures. This number could be higher following an influx of families beginning in 2017, according to a January report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General. As a result, President Donald Trump signed an executive order in June 2018 to reverse his policy of family separation and allow families to be detained together. “I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” Trump said at the time, even though the new order did not stop the apprehension of children. Then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the order sought “to replace one form of child abuse with another.”

Following the end of separations under the new executive order, nearly 2,700 children have been reunited, but thousands more are still separated. Meanwhile, the Defense Department announced that it’s reviewing a host of military bases to shelter almost 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.

In anticipation of a new influx of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border, the HHS filed a request for additional space. Thousands of families cross the border every month, but this number may reach a new high as the cold weather subsides. Additionally, HHS has requested $1.3 billion for the 2020 fiscal year budget, as well as the creation of a $2 billion contingency fund, KVIA reported. “We have requested quite a lot, but at the rate we are going with the kids coming across the border, it is quite a burden financially,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar told the House Energy and Commerce Committee Tuesday.

During the same hearing, Azar said that he was not consulted about Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. “I was not aware that that policy was under consideration when the attorney general announced it,” he said, adding that he would have flagged “significant child welfare issues” if this issue were addressed to his office.

In early February, the Trump administration admitted it would be impossible to reunite all the children and their families, prompting a rebuke from immigration advocates. “The Trump administration’s response is a shocking concession that it can’t easily find thousands of children it ripped from parents, and doesn’t even think it’s worth the time to locate each of them,” ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said in a statement. “The administration also doesn’t dispute that separations are ongoing in significant numbers.”

About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review,, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and U.S. politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.