The Truth About Those 545 Separated Children


December 8, 2020

By Tom Homan

During the final presidential debate, Joe Biden attacked President Trump with righteous indignation about how the illegal alien parents of 545 children in the U.S. allegedly cannot be found. Instead of fact-checking the allegation, the media accepted it as gospel and further evidence of the current administration’s purported cruelty. Since the media long ago abandoned its role as a watchdog for the people, it falls upon people like myself to correct the record.

This reported story of the 545 separated children is far from accurate. Much of what has been said about it is false. Here is the unvarnished truth about the situation.

Parents were separated from their children when they were charged with the crime of illegal entry into the U.S., a crime as identified in 8 USC § 1325. The parents were prosecuted and sent to jail, mostly to U.S. Marshal’s facilities to await their criminal proceedings. Their children were sent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to be held in a licensed day care facility until their parents were released.

When the immigrant parents were finally released, they were processed for removal from the U.S.  Their child was in a different facility as I explained above and under their own immigration proceeding. Parents were asked if they wanted their child to be deported with them but many parents chose to leave their child here in hopes the child would be given some sort of immigration benefit, and in many circumstances, live with relatives or the other parent that were already here. That parent was also here illegally most of the time.  Some parents admitted that their “end game” was always to get their child here to live with relatives or go to school here and live here while they return to Central America. This was usually documented in writing by agents during processing. This is the lead that the media is burying or outright hiding from the American public.

Again, I am not saying all parents are doing this, but many of them are. I was also informed that after a court ordered ICE to locate the parent for reunification, even if they were in another country, some of the parents still refused reunification. DHS spokesman Chase Jennings on October 2 said in response to the misleading story the following: “This story is wholly inaccurate. In the current litigation, for example, out of the parents of 485 children whom Plaintiffs’ counsel has been able to contact, they’ve yet to identify a single family that wants their child reunited with them in their country of origin.”

That may sound unbelievable, but consider this. While approximately 2,500 separations occurred during zero tolerance, there were over 14,000 children in custody of ORR that came to this country by themselves. That’s right, six times as many children were smuggled to the U.S. without their parents by a criminal organization that their parents or other sponsors hired.

Consider something additional. Before and after zero tolerance, some parents actually allowed their children to be used by numerous unrelated adults to pose as a family group because they knew they would likely be released into the U.S. if they had a child with them. The child was then sent back home to be used again. What dangers were those children exposed to? One could only imagine, but these same groups that scream about zero tolerance don’t say a word about that.

Many people spoke out about zero tolerance when it happened and I understand that. I have seen many sad and terrible tragedies throughout my career. Illegal immigration is not a victimless crime. It never has been. However, as Doctors Without Borders have determined through their independent studies, approximately 31 percent of women are sexually assaulted during a migration journey.

People are suffering and dying, including children, who attempt that journey. Take all that into account along with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) statistics which show that nearly 90 percent of asylum claims by Central Americans never got relief from the U.S. Courts because they didn’t qualify. Zero tolerance was an attempt to stop the violence and save lives.   

Those same anti-borders groups screamed about cages even though they found out later that the so-called cages were approved, funded, built and utilized by the Obama administration. They also soon learned that separations also happened during the same presidency. Not as many as during the Trump administration, but it did in fact occur.

Finally, when I was the Executive Associate Director at ICE, third in command in the agency, I was called to the White House numerous times to discuss the family surge in FY14 and FY15. At two separate meetings I was instructed by Obama administration officials to initiate a nationwide operation to arrest children who entered the country by themselves and were subsequently ordered removed by an immigration judge. To be clear, they wanted me to send armed agents to homes in the U.S., arrest children and separate from their parents or whoever else they were living with, and remove them from the country.

I delayed. I told them it would be better to remove them as a family intact. However, if the parent or guardian did not have a removal order, or wanted a hearing in front of a judge or were in the middle of proceedings, it could not be done. The parent had the right to remain and fight their case. That is the way the law works. 

Separating parents because they are charged and prosecuted for a crime, as was done during the zero tolerance policy, is one thing, but separating a child and deporting them to a different country away from the parent is something entirely different. If it was an older child who was a gang member or a public safety threat, it would make more sense. However, if they were neither and there was an option to remove the entire family together, that would be the best case scenario.

As someone that has worked for six administrations, I can tell you each one had their ideas on how to tackle the immigration problem. However, do not try to tell me how the Trump administration was so insensitive and the Obama administration—which included Joe Biden—was so compassionate. I know better.

Tom Homan is the former Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and a senior fellow at the Immigration Reform Law Institute.

Also published at: Tom Homan, The Truth About Those 545 Separated Children, The Washington Times, December 8, 2020.

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