- Win McNamee/Getty Images; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider
- The Trump administration is under fire for its policy of separating children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.
- As a result, the Department of Homeland Security on Monday published what it described as a fact-check of its family-separation policy.
- It details “myths” about the policy and blames the media and members of Congress for negative stories about it.
- But it leaves out the main reason the US is separating families: the Justice Department’s new hardline zero-tolerance policy on border immigration.
The Department of Homeland Security published a “Myth vs. Fact” document on Monday in an attempt to cool the political firestorm around its family-separation policy – but it avoided mentioning its new zero-tolerance policy that is behind the decision to intentionally separate children from their parents.
The self-described fact-check, published on the DHS website, responds to 13 “myths” about ongoing family separations at the US border. Its answers, however, lack some important context.
In one instance, the DHS says it “does not have a blanket policy of separating families at the border.” Instead, it says, families are intentionally split up only if a child is determined to be at risk or if a child’s parent or legal guardian “is referred for criminal prosecution.”
That answer does not mention the key fact that under the Justice Department’s new zero-tolerance policy, all adults found to be crossing the US-Mexico border without authorization are now priorities for criminal prosecution. All such people would therefore have their children taken away.
Here is the relevant passage from Monday’s document:
“DHS does not have a blanket policy of separating families at the border. However, DHS does have a responsibility to protect all minors in our custody. This means DHS will separate adults and minors under certain circumstances. These circumstances include:
“1) when DHS is unable to determine the familial relationship,
“2) when DHS determines that a child may be at risk with the parent or legal guardian, or
“3) when the parent or legal guardian is referred for criminal prosecution.”
While the above is technically correct, it doesn’t acknowledge that a deliberate increase in prosecutions is what is driving more separations.
The Trump administration has at times denied having a specific policy to separate children from parents at the border. Though the government has documented such a policy, some officials, including President Donald Trump, have falsely argued that they are not following a policy but rather have no choice under the law.
Under the Obama administration, immigrants detained at the border with children were released and allowed to remain in the US while their immigration court cases were pending, in what was referred to as “catch and release.”
Families were also referred for civil deportation proceedings, not criminal, and therefore were not separated.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions described the new strategy as a policy designed to deter illegal immigration when he announced it in May: “I have put in place a zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry on our southwest border. If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple.
“If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.”
- Chip Somodevilla/Getty; John Moore/Getty; Shayanne Gal/Business Insider
In another point involving language, the DHS “Myth vs. Fact” document denied housing children in “cages,” opting to call them “short-term facilities” that “make use of barriers in order to separate minors of different genders and age groups.” It said this was for their safety.
Photos taken inside such facilities show hundreds of migrants, including children, sleeping inside metal cages, on mattresses on the ground, and wrapped in foil blankets.
One 16-year-old girl had reportedly been taking care of a young girl who was separated from her mother, and had been teaching other children in the cell how to change diapers.
Though the DHS “Myth vs. Fact” sheet said the agency had seen the news media and opposing members of Congress “mislead the public” about the new policy, opposition only seems to be growing even among members of Trump’s party.
Many senior Republicans, including Sens. John McCain and Susan Collins, and the former first lady Laura Bush are among those who have spoken out against the family-separation policy.