The History of Separating Illegal Immigrant Children From Their Parents After They Cross the Border

By Rachel Alexander Published on June 20, 2018

Democrats call the Trump administration cruel for separating children from parents caught crossing the border illegally. Authorities separate the families so the parents can be jailed and prosecuted. The children are placed with relatives or other foster care.

Over 2,000 children have been separated from their parents since April under this policy. Reacting to pressure, Trump reversed this policy on Wednesday with an executive order.

Trump’s No Tolerance

Trump started the new “zero tolerance” policy in April. First time offenders are charged with misdemeanors. Repeat offenders are charged with a felony. Entering the country illegally is not merely a civil violation. First time offenders can be sentenced up to six months in jail.

The Supreme Court decided in the 1996 decision Flores v. Reno how illegal immigrant children should be treated. The policy favors release of the minors. It places children who remain in federal custody in the least restrictive environment.

They cannot be detained for more than 20 days. They cannot be jailed. If the parent pleads guilty to illegal entry, the family is reunited quickly and they are deported together. If the adult applies for asylum — which the Central Americans have little chance of getting — it slows the process down. Once the prosecution and incarceration process is finished, the family is reunited in civil detention and deported together.

This isn’t unusual. A parent who commits any crime in the U.S. that involves incarceration is separated from their children. Most other countries do this.

Not a New Policy

The zero tolerance policy dates back to the Bush administration. George W. Bush launched Operation Streamline in 2005. All illegal immigrants were put in jail, but exceptions were made for parents traveling with children.

The zero tolerance policy dates back to the Bush administration.

There was a dramatic increase in minors crossing the border illegally under the Obama administration due to Obama’s decision to allow legal status for the Dreamers. Those illegally crossing the border likely did not realize it did not apply to new arrivals. Under the Obama administration, illegal immigrants were less likely to be detained, as part of a “catch and release” policy. Some were released and fitted with a GPS ankle bracelet to ensure they returned for their court date. But many never showed up for the court hearing and disappeared into the U.S.

In 2014, the Obama administration housed the children in closed housing units while their parents were being processed. But after an outcry over images of children being held in temporary housing, a federal judge struck down the practice of detaining mothers with their children. The Ninth Circuit ruled that it violated the Flores agreement and was inhumane.

Ironically, the practice of keeping mothers with their children is what led to separating them. In 2016, the Ninth Circuit held that Flores did not require release of the parents.

Eighty percent of women and children who travel from Central America to the U.S. to enter illegally are raped along the way. Since 1995, 10,000 people have died while trying to sneak into our country. Encouraging this to continue, which often means embarking on a dangerous trip with smugglers to enter the country, means more will die and be raped. In addition, many of the adults and children coming over the border falsely pretend to be families.


Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has proposed a bill that would house illegal immigrants with their children in detention centers together. This is how they were often treated under the Obama administration. His bill would also require that asylum requests be handled within 14 days. It would speed up deportations and double the number of immigration judges. More family detention centers would be built.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has proposed a bill that would house illegal immigrants with their children in detention centers together.

President Trump’s executive order is similar. He says he still expects Congress to follow with similar legislation. Some fear this approach will run afoul of the Flores case. A broader immigration bill being proposed would address some of this. It would allow children to be detained longer than 20 days.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., proposed a bill that would ban the separation of families at the border unless there is evidence that a child is being trafficked or abused by his or her parents. But there is no provision in it to ensure that the parents are prosecuted. It would likely revive catch and release.

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“Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a speech on Thursday in Fort Wayne, Ind. Separating families serves as a deterrent to entering the country illegally. If families come to the border and apply for asylum instead of crossing the border illegally, they will not be separated.

For the Democrats, who support amnesty, it’s not about stopping the practice of separating children from their parents. It’s about using the children as a ruse to release the parents into the U.S. so they can avoid the consequences of prosecution. Otherwise they would agree to Cruz’s bill, which keeps families together. It is very similar to the practice under the Obama administration.

Follow Rachel on Twitter at Rach_IC.

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  • Rachel, the whole purpose of the Democrats’ activity is to push the narrative that illegal immigration is, somehow, not illegal after all. This is what it has ALWAYS been. And once here, they finagle them onto the voter roles, with reasonable assurance that, in gratitude, they will vote, what? DEMOCRAT!

    • Chip Crawford

      Conservatives and right thinking public figures need to keep repeating that obvious motive back to the accusatory rhetoric now everywhere. Conservative pundits could and should set out a case for it and continue to develop the theme, because it is reality and needs to be called out.

  • David Hess

    Here is a transcription of John Zmirak’s interview on Eric Mextaxas on June 22nd

    Zmirak – “The problem is, because of some judge-imposed loopholes and bad laws passed back in the 90’s, the U.S can’t hold illegal immigrant children for more than 20 days. After 3 weeks, we have to let the kids go.”

    Metaxas – “Wait a minute! Let them go where?”

    Zmirak – “To relatives or foster care. Or if we want to keep them with their parents, we have to let the parents go. And that’s the WHOLE problem because immigrant activists have told the “coyotes”, the people smugglers in Central America and in Mexico, all you have to do is to bring a child, it doesn’t even have to be your child because the Americans won’t check…all you have to do is to show up with a kid and after 20 days the Americans will let you go. You never have to show up for your asylum hearing [and] you can live in America forever. That word has gone out all across Central America…we saw that kid whose picture was on the cover of Time Magazine crying…she was not even separated from her mother. It turns out her mother stole her from their intact family leaving behind her husband and other two children. She paid “Coyotes”, human traffickers, $7000 to smuggle her into the United States, and she was NEVER even separated from her child. So that was a complete media fabrication…her mother was still with her like one foot away, they just cropped her out of the photo. They were always together; they were never separated. And she had kidnapped her child. And the Daily Caller has got an interview with the father saying, “Yeh, I told her not to go. I’m furious she took my kid on this dangerous journey to use her [the child] as a means of getting to the United States where she thought she’d get a better job. So the word has gone out that if you want to get into the United States, and after 20 days be released and never be tracked down and you can live there forever, all you have to do is to bring a child and say that the child is yours. Under the Obama Administration, they were doing this “Catch and Release” and 10,000 Central American kids were released to people who were NOT, in fact, their parents and ended up working as slave labor, in factories, and in the sex industry. We don’t know what happened to those kids. That’s what happens when you allow your southern border to be controlled by Narco-Terrorists MS-13, [who are] human traffickers, sex traffickers. When you let your border be controlled by terrorists, NOT by the government…women and children are the ones who suffer…80% of Central American women and girls who enter the U.S. illegally are raped. 80%, and that’s according to the Huffington Post…80% of those women are raped. In fact, when young girls and women set off to come illegally into America, they put themselves on multiple forms of birth control because they expect to be raped and they don’t want to get pregnant from their rapists. Our southern borders are lined with what they call “rape trees”, that’s plants or trees, where human traffickers, who’ve been paid to smuggle these people into America, take the bloody, torn clothes of women they’ve raped and hang them up like ‘trophies’. And they are all along the southern border. And if we go back to the Obama policy of “Catch and Release”, we are sending a message to all of these people in Central America, ‘Take the risk, BUT bring your child..make sure to bring your child, when you take this risky journey with the rapists, and you’ll get to stay in America.

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