The Trump administration’s separation of families at the border — taking children from their parents, arresting the parents, and taking the kids into custody — sounds almost too cruel to be real. But the separations are, in fact, real, and new data reported by the Associated Press shows just how many children have been separated from their parents.
The AP acquired internal Department of Homeland Security data on the program, covering the period of April 19 to May 31. Over that time span, 1,995 children were taken from their migrant parents at the border. That’s an average of roughly 48 kids separated from their families per day, often sent into foster homes or held in detention centers.
This might actually be an undercount. On a call with reporters Friday, DHS officials said this number reflects only the families that have been separated when parents were sent into criminal custody to be prosecuted for illegal entry. Some families presented themselves for asylum legally by coming to a port of entry — an official border crossing — and were then separated; they weren’t included in the AP figures.
If you want to understand the technical hows and the whys of this policy, I recommend my colleague Dara Lind’s excellent explainer. But what I can’t really wrap my head around is the cruelty of it all.
Imagine you were a parent who has been separated from your child and had no real sense of whether you’d ever see them again. Imagine you were one of the children: Your parents are gone, and you’re stuck in a country whose language you may not speak, in the care of people you do not know.
The pain would be, and demonstrably is, incredible. One Honduran man, Marco Antonio Muñoz, killed himself in his detention cell after Border Patrol agents took his 3-year-old son. According to CNN, Border Patrol agents ripped a woman’s infant daughter from her arms literally while she was breastfeeding. The New York Times reported a heartbreaking story of how one child, referred to only as José, dealt with being separated from his parents and placed in foster care.
“For two days, he didn’t shower, he didn’t change his clothes. I literally had to peel the socks off his feet. They were so old and smelly,” Janice, the name the Times uses refers to José’s foster mother, said. “I realized that he didn’t want anyone to take anything away from him.”
These stories are real. Versions of them have played out 2,000 times between April and May, and almost certainly more since. There is no end in sight for family separation. This is the reality we live in.