Border Patrol Commissioner Kevin McAleenan’s Family Separation Denial

In an interview with the LA Times published early Monday morning, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan set out to clarify CBP’s systematic practice of separating children from their parents at the border. Rather than provide real clarification, however, McAleenan’s comments continued the trend of Trump administration officials attempting to justify this unprecedented and horrific policy by spinning the truth and, worse, by making specious claims with little to no basis in fact. 

When asked how CBP was handling family separations, McAleenan at first forcefully denied that an official policy regarding separating children from parents even exists: “We do not have a policy of administrative separation.” But, this is misleading. While the statement is technically true — the administration’s new “zero-tolerance” policy does not explicitly mention family separation — in practice, it is meaningless. Prosecuting every person who crosses the border somewhere other than a port of entry necessitates criminal detention. If a person has children with her, that necessitates taking the children away. As the AP has noted, “while separating families might not be official U.S. policy, it is a direct consequence of Sessions’ zero-tolerance approach.”

Tell Homeland Security to stop separating children from their families

As the interview went on, McAleenan’s statements only became more deceptive. When CBP separates families, McAleenan reasoned, it is “only if the adults are being prosecuted or if there’s a determination made by the agent there’s not actually a family relationship, which has happened several hundred times just in the sector this year.” A moment later, McAleenan clarified that figure: In the Rio Grande Valley sector this fiscal year alone, the commissioner claimed, there have been 600 cases of people “pretend[ing] to be families even if they’re not.” According to McAleenan, hundreds of smugglers a year are snatching children to bring with them as they cross into the U.S., all in the hopes that they will avoid detention if they pretend to be a family unit. 

But if this is true, why have we not seen equally large-scale prosecutions and convictions for child smuggling and trafficking? In fact, when pressed, the government fails to provide any evidence of such convictions. While we haven’t come across evidence of any massive child smuggling schemes, what we do have ample evidence of is CBP’s relentless practice of tearing children from their actual parents without making any effort to determine the parental relationship.

There is our client, Ms. L, for example, who, despite following the government’s own instructions for seeking asylum — crossing at an official port of entry — had her 7-year-old daughter taken from her with no explanation. The two were not reunited until 4 months later, and only after the ACLU filed a lawsuit and a federal judge ordered a DNA test, which proved maternity. Then there is Mirian G., who also sought asylum at a port of entry, and yet still had her 18-month-old son taken from her for over two months. In that case, Border Patrol agents ordered Mirian to strap her baby into a car seat while refusing to answer her repeated questions about why they were being separated. When McAleenan cites hundreds of cases in which there was suspected smuggling, it undoubtedly includes stories like those of our clients.

According to McAleenan, this massive smuggling scheme — for which there is no evidence — can be traced back to what he refers to as “the catch-and-release loophole” created by the settlement of the 2015 class-action lawsuit, Flores. In truth, though, Flores is not a loophole, it is a consent decree designed to prevent the prolonged detention of children. It requires that children be released from custody without unnecessary delay; that if they are detained, that they are kept in the “least restrictive setting” possible; and that standards be set for the basic care of children in detention. It would be perverse to cite a prohibition on jailing immigrant children as the reason for this administration's systematic separation of families.

If the Trump administration’s real priority was to ensure the wellbeing of children, then it would not have ended the Family Case Management Program, which allowed families to be released together, but into a program that would ensure that they appeared for court proceedings. Again, this is not a loophole, but rather an alternative to family separation that prevented needless and expensive detention. Moreover, it was hugely effective: The initiative boasted a 99.6 percent appearance rate at immigration court hearings for those enrolled in the program.

Clearly, though, this administration’s priorities have never been so noble. The true purpose of family separation is clear: To treat families seeking refuge in the U.S. so poorly that fewer people will do so in the future. Try as they might, no amount of dishonesty and spin on the part of McAleenan and other administration officials could disguise that fact.

Trump's Family Separation Crisis: How to Help

View comments (64)
Read the Terms of Use

Gary Olson

Violating international law and human rights to intimidate a population seeking asylum is the definition of terrorism. Holding children hostage to advance a political agenda is the tactic of a terrorist group. Trump calls this "leverage."

Anonymous

The caucasians came and killed the natives or forced them to move into reservations, took hold of all the good land, abused the land and animals, brought many diseases that wiped out many natives, brought different races and enslaved them to do all the dirty work for them, many still believe they are superior to all other races and therefore have continued to mistreat them. I praise all the Caucasians who welcome diversity and are always willing to lend a helping hand to the neighbor in need. Building a wall and separating families does not solve anything. I believe the best thing to do would be for the U. S. and other leading countries to assist the neighboring countries control all the corruption, drug production, killings, robberies and so on. If we could all join hands and provide our assistance in helping them develop more businesses and schools to better prepare future generations then we can also reduce immigration.
People don’t really want to leave their countries, they’re forced to do so because of serious circumstances. Oh but wait, you are paying millions of dollars to support foreign engineers to come and work on your electronic and software products while you’re paying pennies to the illegal immigrants to put the food on your table, watch your kids and clean up after your lazy butt. And still you’re ungrateful and refuse to lend a helping hand.

Anonymous

Obama Administration Handed Child Migrants Over to Human Traffickers. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/01/hhs-handed-child-migrants-to-human-traffickers.html

Of course children shouldn't be arrested with their parents.

So much concern about illegal's children, no concern for the legal immigrants and innocence American's childrens lives lost to ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS.

The Democrats were offered amnesty for DACA in exchange for the wall, which they refused.

Anonymous

Shame on us...if we are going to bring the Bible in to this then let us not forget the 10 Commandments-the words that the Bible says God handed down. The first of which is, Do unto others as you would have done to you...

Anonymous

I'm saddened by many of the comment in this comment trail. The US has ample room/ability to take in the number of immigrants arriving at the southern border or any other port of entry. These are people that want a better life and are willing to work hard to earn that here. Consider why your ancestors immigrated here. Unless you are native American, you have no business commenting.

Anonymous

We do not have the ability to take in most of Central America and a good portion of Mexico. Besides, what about people from other countries that want or need asylum? If we are taking in every Mexican or Central American that comes across the border then we won't have the time, resources, or space for anyone else and other people may have stronger claims for asylum (including parents with children). A system that favors one group over others (including others with darker skin) is discriminatory a and racist. It also doesn't ensure that the people most in need get asylum.

Anonymous

Well said!

bblackmoor

How can we, as decent people, fight this? Writing letters, making phone calls, and complaining online is clearly not enough. How can we work to see that these Border Patrol agents and their superiors stand trial for these crimes? What constructive action can we take?

Anonymous

Start a new movement which encourages citizens to take in illegal aliens and let them live with them. A tax break will be issued to families who do this and another tax break on top of that if they let MS13 gang members live in their basement. And yet another if they supply illegals with automobiles and liquor. This will solve the problem in the short term. Congress should pass legislation to allow illegals three felonies before a gentle reprimanding. And citizens will pay no taxes if they tattoo MS13 on their cheeks.

Steve Brown

President Trump, AG Sessions, and John Kelly have all stated the purpose of this assault on children is to "deter" their parents from attempting entry. First, quite a few of these crossers are seeking asylum and have been vetted for that on the Mexican side before being allowed to cross. They truly deserve better than this. Second; holding family members hostage as "deterrence" was practiced by the Nazi's in occupied Europe and currently by terrorist groups like ISIS and al qaeda. It was and is considered a war crime and crime against humanity. I hope we are better than that. There truly is no excuse for this.

Pages

Stay Informed