The government has continued to separate migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border even though President Trump signed an executive order over the summer ending the practice, government data shows.
Since Trump reversed his widely reviled “zero tolerance” policy in June, federal agents have separated 81 migrant kids from their parents or other accompanying family members, according to data released by the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday.
Despite Trump ending the family-shattering practice and a federal judge ordering the government to reunite the separated kids with their families, the government is allowed by law to separate minors if their parents have pending criminal charges or if there’s credible concern about a child’s health and wellbeing.
“The welfare of children in our custody is paramount,” DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman said. “As we have already said — and the numbers show: Separations are rare. While there was a brief increase during zero tolerance as more adults were prosecuted, the numbers have returned to their prior levels.”
But immigration advocates worry the administration may be overstepping its authority by falsely labeling immigrants as criminals or using vague criminal histories to justify separations.
“We are very concerned the government may be separating families based on vague allegations,” said Lee Gelernt, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who litigated the case that resulted in a judge ruling the government must reunite all migrant families separated because of zero tolerance.
The Associated Press first reported the continued separations.
From June 21, the day after Trump’s executive action, through Tuesday, 76 adults were separated from the children, according to the data. Of those, 51 were criminally prosecuted — 31 with criminal histories and 20 for other, unspecified reasons, the data shows. Nine were hospitalized, 10 had gang affiliations and four had extraditable warrants. Two were separated because of prior immigration violations and orders of removal, according to the data.