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Immigrant families detained in the border area of Rio Grande. March 2018. Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS
Immigrant families detained in the border area of Rio Grande. March 2018. Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS

What effect did a 'pilot program' have on family separation?

According to new reports, many more immigrant children could have been separated from their parents than originally thought. 

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In recent months, the entire country has been shocked by images of children in detention centers, the recorded cries of desperate minors, and families destroyed by the zero-tolerance policy established by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in March.

The official figures of immigrant children separated from their families when detained without documentation at the border covered roughly 2,342, but new information provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to NBC News shows that "another 1,768 (children) were separated from their parents between October 2016 and February 2018, bringing the total number of separated kids to more than 4,100." 

"More than 1,000 children were separated between October 2016 and September 2017, and 703 were separated between October 2017 and February 2018," explained NBC. "It’s unclear how many of those 1,768 children were separated after President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017."

Even though NBC requested more "exhaustive" data from DHS, the agency "refused to provide monthly figures, did not provide data before October 2016 and did not offer any number from March to April 2018."

According to this data then, DHS officials hinted that the family separation strategy preceded the Trump government, something that has been hotly debated by media and specialists.

However, the department confirmed to NBC that Sessions' zero-tolerance policy was based on a "pilot program" conducted between the months of July and October 2017 in the El Paso area.

"Court records and interviews with migrants show that during that period, federal prosecutors began to criminally charge any adult who crossed the border unlawfully in the El Paso sector, which spans from New Mexico to West Texas," the report continues. "Parents arriving with young children were not exempt."

Organizations like Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center had warned about it but "people didn’t believe it".

This information then justifies the statements of the Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Alex Azar, on Thursday, when he said that "around 3,000 immigrant children who would have been separated from their parents at the United States border remain in the custody of the government."

That figure is considerably higher than that announced by the same agency last week before Congress, which added about 2,047 children separated from their families.

"In a call with reporters on Thursday, Azar said the ‘under 3,000 figure’ was determined after a recent ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw that ordered the reunification of all children under 5 with their parents by July 10," The Daily Beast reported. "That number may include children who told caseworkers that they were traveling with a parent, but were actually separated from them before reaching the U.S. border, which Azar said the agency is working to determine."

Likewise, the secretary assured that the department would comply with what was ordered in the sentence.

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