USA and the UK
Trumps Zero Tolerance Policy Went Ahead Despite Officials Finding Migrant Children Under 12 Couldn't Find Parents Alone
According to a memo from the Justice Department a program in El Paso, Texas in 2017 found that migrant children under 12 shouldn’t be separated from their families, as they were unable to find their parent alone once separated.
The pilot program was led by federal prosecutors and paved the way for Trump’s “Zero Tolerance Policy”. The memo was prepared for the US Attorney for the Western District of Texas, John Bash. However it never reached officials in Washington as it wasn’t sent to the Justice Department. Instead, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general at the time, told federal prosecutors that no child was too young to be separated from their parents.
What happened during the pilot program?
From April to December 2017 the pilot program saw 303 families separated, which including 11 children under a 1 year old, 22 children who were 1 year old and 28 children who were two years old.
During the program prosecutors came to the realization that some children were too young to be separated, so developed an test in August that analysed the child’s ability to communicate details about where they were from, their family and where they were going to. Following these assessments very few children under 12 years old were deemed safe to separate.
A memo from El Paso in 2018 indicated that neither the initial program or the Zero Tolerance Policy that resulted afterwards, ever had a plan intended to reunite the families that were separated.
A draft report from the Inspector General said:
“We found no evidence that DOJ leadership sought information about the challenges encountered during the Initiative…including the government’s inability to reunify separated families prior to referencing the El Paso Initiative as a basis for expanding referrals of family unit adults throughout the Southwest border.”
What is the Zero Tolerance Policy?
The Zero Tolerance policy was announced by the Trump administration in April 2018. Under this policy every migrant, which includes asylum seekers, who attempted to cross the US border anywhere other than one of the official points of entry was to be detained and criminally prosecuted. It also meant that migrant children crossing the border with their parents would be separated from them as their parents were prosecuted.
In 2018 this Zero Tolerance policy saw more than 3000 children separated from their families.
Referring to this policy, a spokesperson from Refugees International said:
“The zero tolerance policy is fundamentally cruel, and there are clear indications the administration is still pursuing a family detention option”
Public outrage over the family separation policy forced the Trump administration to cease the separation of families and they decided instead to detain migrant families together.