Staff Columnist

Study: Trump administration targeted immigrant parents

Government was warned a year before separations began of psychological harm

Guatemalan asylum seeker Hermelindo Che Coc embraces his 6-year-old son, Jefferson Che Pop, after reuniting with him at Los Angeles International Airport in the Los Angeles area, on July 14, 2018. The father and son were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border and had been separated for nearly two months. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Guatemalan asylum seeker Hermelindo Che Coc embraces his 6-year-old son, Jefferson Che Pop, after reuniting with him at Los Angeles International Airport in the Los Angeles area, on July 14, 2018. The father and son were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border and had been separated for nearly two months. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
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As part of its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, the Trump administration chose to prosecute immigrants with children more often than those without, according to analysis of federal immigration data by Syracuse University researchers.

Although Attorney General Jeff Sessions said all immigrants would be prosecuted under the “zero tolerance” policy when he announced it in April, and Trump administration officials claimed family separations were merely a consequence of more prosecutions after the public became aware of separations, data shows immigrants with children were prosecuted in higher numbers than those without.

“The Administration has not explained its rationale for prosecuting parents with children when that left so many other adults without children who were not being referred for prosecution,” the report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse states.

During May, roughly three weeks after Sessions announced the “zero tolerance” policy, U.S. border authorities took 4,458 adults with children into custody as well as 24,465 adults without children. Less than one-third of those taken into custody faced prosecution and, disproportionately, those chosen for criminal cases were adults with children.

Data from April showed only one adult with a child was referred for criminal prosecution, although “zero tolerance” was officially rolled out on April 6.

At the same time, however, a little more than a thousand adults out of 4,537 apprehended at the border were deported that month. Yet, just 851 children out of more than 5,000 apprehended as part of family units were deported, leaving researchers to wonder how many adults had been forced out of the country without their children.

Officials with Customs and Border Patrol have disagreed with the research findings, saying that all those apprehended could have been prosecuted. They’ve also said that 85 percent of people apprehended were prosecuted, providing data from May and June. Syracuse researchers looked only at May. Federal authorities have declined to release exact counts with a breakdown of single adult and adult with children prosecutions.

“Since less than one out of three adults were actually prosecuted, CBP personnel had to choose which individuals among those apprehended to refer to federal prosecutors,” TRAC concluded. “The Administration has not explained its rationale for prosecuting parents with children when that left so many other adults without children who were not being referred for prosecution.”

After public outcries from Democrats and Republicans, President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending his administration’s separation policy in June. By then, more than 2,000 children had already been separated from their parents. A federal judge ordered the administration to reunite all of those families and gave it several deadlines to do so. The administration has missed them all, and hundreds of undocumented children remain separated from their parents.

“Zero tolerance” remains in place, and the government has used other, seemingly more valid reasons to separate immigrant children from adults at the border — criminal history, danger to the child, claims of guardianship that cannot be verified.

But one of the more sordid aspects of the original initiative was divulged this week during hearings in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Jonathan White, commander of the Public Health Service Commission Corps, said the government proceeded with family separations after he had repeatedly warned officials in the Trump administration, as early as last year when the policy was being discussed, that doing so would be traumatic to the children.

“Separation of parents from their children entails significant risk of harm to children,” White said. “There’s no question that separation of a child from parents entails significant potential for traumatic psychological injury to the child.”

The White House, as we now know, carried on despite such warnings.

Although the Trump administration tried to walk back earlier comments that family separations were intended to send a warning to immigrants, to serve as a deterrent to people seeking asylum or other entry into the U.S., these families were clearly used as political pawns.

Our government specifically targeted those who provided the loudest and most horrific message, and it did so with full knowledge that it was harming children and setting the stage for generations of distrust.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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