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

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Sylvia Gillpatrick

Where are the state protective services workers? Why aren't the states social service agencies removing these children from these detention centers? Each state has a duty to act in the best interest of the child, and that duty rises above all others and applies to all children within their state, not just US citizens. The United States has violated state laws with these actions and there should be immediate legal action.

Anonymous

We only give a specific amount of asylums per year and the number of asylums is partly based on the number of people, per specific categories, we can absorb without over-extending our resources and hurting ourselves. The people here illegally factor into the number of asylums we can give out. So, when we let people exploit the system and get deported facto amnesty because they dragged a kid across the border with them it means that someone else doesn't get asylum and that other person might need it more. If we control the flow of foreigners into the USA we can look at each case and decide who needs asylum the most. The person losing out might be a kid.

Also, there are per country caps on our asylums to stop them all going to people from one particular country or region because that is racist. Allowing people who already make up the majority of low-skill immigrants to circumvent the system just gives them a bigger advantage over other groups. The family visa system makes it even worse because if a specific group dominates our immigration pool it is easier for others from that group to find sponsors and that group had the political pull to demand more and more concessions for their own group (like extra visas and law enforcement). Under this system entire countries get locked out because there are hardly any immigrants here from those countries so no one can get a family visa. Thus, the first group keeps growing and squeezes out the latter group. The latter group is pretty much every majority black country on the face of the Earth and many of the less developed majority brown countries that aren't Mexico or in Central America.

Jane Ellis

I think you should try an 8th Amendment violation claim. The 8th Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment was not originally applied only to crimes. And there is little more cruel and unusual than this family separation.

Anonymous

This reminds me of The 60’s Scoop where children of Aboriginal descent were taken from their homes without parental consent or even choice. This was later looked back on as a cultural genocide. Later the were studies where many of the children were found to have committed suicide because this didnt know their original families. This is exactly what is happening here as an entire race and culture is being preyed on make a political point. It is disgusting and will have lasting effects.

Anonymous

History will not be on our side on this one. Innocent children should never be punished for the sins of the parent(s). This separation practice is so immoral. I'm afraid what it will lead to next. Children need care, love and affection and the lack of it can lead to life long physical and mental health conditions. This is dangerous. We must do anything and everything we can to reunite these families, even if it means building a stupid wall.

Nelson Hall

As a Christian I abhor what Trump’s immigration policies is doing to children and their parents being mistreated by our immigration system. It is immoral , wrong and unjust. It reveals that Trump lacks any measure of compassion as a human being. We are terrorizing families . Does this reflect who we are as a nation ? Can a Christian nation justify these actions ? Are we going to hold Trump responsible ? Christian scriptures and the life of Christ are about love, compassion and treating thy neighbor with respect and dignity. Speak out America listen with a heart for the anguish of these children and families. The Statue of Liberty is crying !

Anonymous

Can't Donald Trump be charged in the World Court for this policy of separating refugee families? Is this something the ACLU could pursue?

Anonymous

Theses so called ‘illegals’ are running for their lives from gangs and the violence that ensues! Only by the grace of God is it not you!

And for those that claim to just be ‘doing their jobs’ ... that’s exactly what the Nazi’s said when they were held accountable for their crimes against humanity.

Anyone, who buys into Trump’s administration and lies should have to suffer the way he has made these children and their parents suffer!!

This is NOT what America is about! We are being led by a narcissistic, sociopath, megalomaniac ... this fact should be keeping you up at night!

I for one wish nothing but pain and plagues on our POTUS!!’

Isabel Fuertes

Mister TRUMP is acting like CEAUCESCU: have we all forgotten what it looked like in the mass "hospitals" for "abandoned" children when finally he was forced to leave power and the borders opened? The concentration camps the American border policy is creating for children is horrific.

Anonymous

"In an interview with the LA Times published early Monday morning, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan lied through his teeth, stretched the truth, butchered the truth, beheaded the truth and buried the truth alive".

There... fixed it. And that's the real truth. Trump sycophants are ALL liars. Just like their boss.

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