United States-Mexico migrant family separation: Everything you should know now

President Donald Trump’s reversal of a policy separating migrant families at the Mexico border on Wednesday sparked confusion over how the new guidelines will play out. But over and above that ambiguity, this reversal does nothing to deal with the trauma and violation the families have suffered in the face of Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

“Land of the free and the home of the brave” – there is nothing free or brave about children being ripped apart from their parents on the US-Mexico border.

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Skip to: What is the real issue here? Our explainer

“We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally”, Trump said on Wednesday. “Zero tolerance” continues to be the new Trump motto – a policy that has resulted in more than 2,000 children being placed in federal custody, according to the government.

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and shoesThese children were held in detention centres resembling cages, pulled away from their weeping parents, unsure of when they would see each other again. 

Is America going to be a nation that accepts the cruelty of family separation? 

Traumatised for life

“We were outside, and you could hear voices of children that appeared to be playing or laughing,” paediatrician Marsha Griffin told AFP in El Paso.

“But when they opened the door, we saw around 20 to 30 10-year-old boys in one of these chain-link enclosures, and they were crying and screaming and asking for their mothers.”

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This is not just about ten or twenty children though, 2300 children were forcefully separated from their parents in the past months, up to 65 children being separated daily.

Trump said Wednesday he didn’t like seeing children being removed from their families. But he also said his administration’s “zero tolerance” on illegal immigration will continue, and children will be held with their parents while the adults are prosecuted. No clarity has been given on what would happen to these separated families, and how families may be vetted for separation – this is because the new reversal policy says “to the extent practicable”.

There is concern that the changes don’t go far enough, allowing children to still be held in detention, even if they remain with their families. It remains unclear what will happen with the more than 2,300 children separated from their parents at the border in recent weeks. Officials have said they are working to reunite families but have provided no clear answers on how.

What exactly is the issue?

Every day, hundreds of immigrant families come to the US-Mexico border with hopes of seeking asylum. Due to Trumps’ new “Zero Tolerance” policy, the parents of the families were subsequently being told that they broke the law. As a result they were taken to jail.

What happens to the children?

The children were being placed in federal custody. The policy had led to a spike in family separations in recent weeks, with more than 2,300 minors separated from their families at the border from May 5 through June 9, according to Homeland Security.

Where are these immigrants from?

They are mainly from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

What is the process of seeking asylum?

South American countries are some of the most dangerous in the world. So many families make the journey towards the US-Mexico border. It is completely legal to go to any border checkpoint in the US and claim asylum. However, asylum is not an easily processed feat and takes a long time to achieve.

Most of the time, border officials will refuse. As a result, many families commit a federal misdemeanour by crossing between ports of entry. That is when they are seized by the border patrol. They are then presented to a judge, who will decide whether or not they should be granted asylum in the USA.

Trump has taken a new approach

Trump ordered that the first step that follows apprehending these families is to arrest them. The parents are sent to a federal jail to await trial. Trumps “zero tolerance” policy that was put into place last month moves adults to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

This is when the separation occurs

Children cannot go to federal jail. They are taken away from their parents and can’t go with you to federal jail. They are sent to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Sometimes this takes weeks.

The questions about this reversal:

These are the most prominent questions that need answers as of now:

1. What happens to the already separated families – and the 2,300 children who are now in these make-shift shelters without their guardians?

2. What is the process now for a migrant family seeking asylum – who vets these families?

3. A 2015 court order called the Flores settlement, prevents the US government from keeping migrant children in detention for more than 20 days. Trump has reportedly instructed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ask the federal court to modify that agreement in order to allow children, and therefore, unified families, to be kept in detention without time limit.

Will there be an overhaul of the Flores settlement order?

4. What are the conditions for asylum in the United States hereon?

Just hours after doubling down on his administration’s much-derided policy that triggers separations of migrant children from their parents, Trump braved frustrated and in some cases angry fellow Republicans to assure he wanted their swift resolution to the crisis.

Who’s supporting what?

While top officials have stood by Trump’s “zero tolerance” approach, insisting children are being held in humane conditions, criticism has swelled from international rights groups, Christian evangelicals, former US first ladies and the president’s own Republican Party.

Just hours after doubling down on his administration’s much-derided policy that triggers separations of migrant children from their parents, Trump braved frustrated and in some cases angry fellow Republicans to assure he wanted their swift resolution to the crisis.

While top officials have stood by Trump’s “zero tolerance” approach, insisting children are being held in humane conditions, criticism has swelled from international rights groups, Christian evangelicals, former US first ladies and the president’s own Republican Party. 

*Inputs from agencies

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