The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy announced in April 2018 led to the separation of at least 18 migrant infant and toddlers under the age of two from their parents at the border, according to a report released Friday by the House Oversight Committee. Nine infants under one year old were also taken from their parents.
The report’s findings are based on information obtained by the committee under subpoena from the Trump administration.
The Democratic-led House report was released ahead of a Friday hearing on migrant child separations. Four Democratic representatives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, who toured border facilities last week will testify. Ahead of her testimony, Pressley on Thursday said, “you just felt suffering and trauma and fear.”
Lawmakers who visited a detention center in El Paso, Texas, said they saw 15 to 20 women held together in a cell that had just a toilet and no access to running water.
After visiting three Texas border facilities, Ocasio-Cortez said the women were told to drink from the toilets. President Trump disputed her description of conditions in the detention centers. He told reporters outside the White House on Friday that Ocasio-Cortez “made that up,” and added it’s a “phony story.”
But the House report is damaging.
The report found the Trump administration’s family separation policy to be “more harmful, traumatic, and chaotic than previously known” and outlines new information about the more than 2,648 children who were separated from their parents.
Among the report’s findings:
- At least 241 children were held in Border Patrol facilities longer than the permitted 72 hours.
- Many children were held in custody for longer than previously known. At least 679 children were held for 46 to 75 days, with another more than 50 children held for six months to a year. More than 25 children were held for longer than a year.
- More than 400 children were moved to multiple Customs and Border Protection facilities, more than 80 were moved to multiple Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities, and at least five children were moved between multiple Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities.
At the time the policy was first enacted, officials claimed it was necessary to separate migrant children from their parents in order to criminally prosecute adult migrants entering the country. According to the documents obtained by the House Oversight Committee, some of those parents “were never sent to federal criminal custody,” and others who were briefly taken into custody were “returned within a day or two.”
“In some cases, parents were readmitted to the same facilities they left just hours before, but their children had already been removed,” the report states.
The conditions at border camps have been described by many as cruel and inhumane.
At a House Oversight Committee hearing earlier this week, asylum seeker Yazmin Juarez testified on the death of her 19-month-old child, whose illness was untreated while they were held in ICE custody. When asked if she had witnessed such a culture of cruelty, Juarez told the committee an ICE official told her, “You know, this country is for Americans, Trump is my president, and we can take your little girl away from you and lock you in jail.”
Freshman Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib acknowledged the current crisis at the border. During her Friday testimony she said through tears, “We do have a crisis at our border. It is one of morality.”
Lawmakers’ visits to border detention centers in recent weeks have renewed calls among some on the left to abolish ICE and the Department of Homeland Security.
“When DHS was [first] formed by Bush 17 years ago, many members of Congress were concerned – [including the] GOP – that we were setting up a ticking time bomb for civil liberties erosion & abuse of power,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted earlier this week.
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