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Family separations a year later: The fallout -- and the separations -- continue

Molly O'Toole, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Jesus was relieved that he and his 6-year-old had made it safely from Honduras to the United States. Then officials took his son.

He had turned himself and his child in to the U.S. Border Patrol last May after crossing the river that marks the border between Reynosa, Mexico, and McAllen, Texas.

Soon after, he was being interrogated at a detention center by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers on why he'd left Honduras and how he'd come to be removed previously from the U.S. They told him he was a criminal, he said, and accused him of lying about being the boy's father.

"They told me that the second I set foot into the United States, the U.S. government owned my son," Jesus recalled, speaking on condition that his last name not be used.

ICE officers told Jesus to hand over the boy, and when he refused, they ripped him from his arms, he said. The boy tried to hold onto Jesus' pants, kicking and screaming, but officers held the sobbing father back and put him against the wall, feet spread. His son's screams faded.

Ten months would pass before the two were reunified.

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A year ago this month, the Trump administration chaotically unveiled its family separation policy. After two months of public outcry, Trump signed an order to end separation. Now, he and some of his closest advisers talk of bringing it back in a new form. But the impact of the first go-round still reverberates from Central America to the White House, from detention centers in Texas to committee rooms in Congress.

Kirstjen Nielsen, the recently ousted Homeland Security secretary, and other officials face subpoenas from House Democrats over family separation. The Homeland Security inspector general's office has at least two dozen open investigations into border and immigration policy, which the inspector general recently identified as the part of the department at "highest risk" for abuse and mismanagement. And advocates for migrants say the administration has continued to quietly separate hundreds of families using different tactics.

The total number of children separated from a parent or guardian under Trump remains unknown.

Last June, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego blocked family separation and ordered the administration to reunite all separated families within 30 days. The number of separated children in the original class covered by his order ultimately numbered roughly 2,800; more than 400 parents, including Jesus, were deported without their children.


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