In March, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, then secretary of homeland security, publicly floated separating parents seeking asylum at the U.S. border from their children and detaining them in separate facilities, as a punitive way to deter illegal immigration from violence-torn Central America. The plan was shelved after a public backlash and amid low immigration numbers, which the White House credited to the "Trump effect," or deterrence through aggressive arrests and tough talk.
Now, the number of immigrants arrested crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is rising — to 29,086 in November, including 7,018 families, from 11,677 apprehensions in April — and the policy of splitting up families is back, approved by the White House and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and awaiting approval by Kelly's successor, new DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, The Washington Post and The New York Times report. It is still controversial, even among some immigration hardliners at DHS, but the idea has support in the Trump administration. "People aren't going to stop coming unless there are consequences to illegal entry," a DHS official tells the Post.
Even without a formal policy, at least 150 familes have been split up this year, the Times reports, citing the case of José Fuentes, a Salvadoran who presented himself to immigration officials at the border with his 1-year-old son, Mateo, saying they feared death from rampant gang violence. Fuentes was sent to California and his son housed in Texas. For six days, Fuentes and his wife, Olivia Acevedo, who is in Mexico with their other son, didn't know where Mateo was.
ICE spokeswoman Liz Johnson told the Times that Mateo was separated from his dad "out of concern for the child's safety and security" because Fuentes did not have sufficient proof he was Mateo's father. Acevado said she was finally able to see Mateo last week in a five-minute video call, and he cried the entire call. "It's a form of torture," she said.