An undocumented mother from the Honduras entered the U.S. illegally and was waiting in a detention center for federal prosecution. She sobbed Tuesday when she told an attorney that federal authorities took her child from her while she was breastfeeding. When she resisted, she was handcuffed. Miguel A. Nogueras is an assistant federal public defender for the Southern District of Texas in McAllen. He says that since President Trump announced a zero-tolerance policy for people entering the U.S. illegally, about 500 children have been separated from their parents. He further states that parents don’t know what’s happening to their children when they’re taken according to CNN. Some are told they are going to be bathed then never see them again while others aren’t told anything. Natalia Cornelio, attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, describes the experience as torture.
Oman Rodriguez-Avila was separated from his 8-year-old daughter when he crossed the border. Standing handcuffed before a federal judge, he pleaded for a short sentence so they could be reunited. Because this was Oman’s second offense, the judge sentenced him to 15 days in jail. His previous offense was in 2012 and resulted in deportation.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection denies claims of families being separated. Carlos Diaz, spokesman for the agency, said via email Wednesday that “Nothing could be further from the truth and these allegations are unsubstantiated.”
Parents who cross the border illegally face federal prosecution and are separated from their children while they await their court appearance. The Office of Refugee Resettlement is responsible for the children during this time. Once parents have faced a federal judge, it is largely on them to locate their children.
When John Kelly was recently asked how he would respond to people who say the practice is “cruel and heartless,” he said he “wouldn’t put it quite that way.” He added that the children are cared for while away from their parents, that they are “put into foster care or whatever.” He stressed that it is the price parents pay for not going through the proper channels to immigrate to the U.S.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a similar statement when the zero-tolerance policy was announced.
“So, if you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offense, we’re going to prosecute you. If you’re smuggling a child, we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”