In March, John Kelly, then the homeland security secretary, expressed his belief that separating migrant families – forcibly taking children away from their parents in this country and at the US-Mexican border – would serve as an effective deterrent to undocumented immigration. In April, the New York Times reported that of the more than 700 children seized from their parents during the previous six months, more than 100 were under the age of four.
In early May, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced that the justice department’s newly tough “zero tolerance” policy would prosecute every person – even asylum seekers, even small children – crossing the border illegally. Last month, Steven Wagner, an official with the department of health and human services, told a Senate committee that his agency had “lost track” of 1,475 immigrant children who had been seized after crossing the US-Mexican border; some of these kids, it was feared, had been turned over to human traffickers. The ACLU and the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School have also charged that US border guards beat and abused migrant children, and threatened them with sexual violence.