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1,358 Children and Counting — Trump’s “Zero Tolerance” Border Policy Is Separating Families at Staggering Rates

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The Trump administration’s intensifying border crackdown has seen as many as 2,000 cases involving children separated from their parents, according to an estimate by a lead attorney litigating a high-profile class-action lawsuit challenging the practice as used against asylum seekers. Hundreds of new incidents of children being separated from their parents have emerged in the last month alone. “I think it’s between 1,500 and 2,000,” Lee Gelernt, a veteran attorney with American Civil Liberties Union, told The Intercept on Thursday, referring to the ballooning total of separation cases. Gelernt based the figure on recent testimony from U.S. officials and government disclosures, arguing that the total reflects the emerging scale of a practice that will have lasting impacts on a generation of kids who happened to arrive in the U.S. at this particular moment.

The ACLU’s suit was filed in March, with affidavits putting the number of children separated from their parents between 400 and 500, Gelernt explained. In late April, the New York Times published a front-page story, based on data provided by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a component of the Department of Health and Human Services, reporting that “more than 700 children have been taken from adults claiming to be their parents since October, including more than 100 children under the age of 4.” In a May 4 hearing on the ACLU’s suit, U.S. Attorney Sarah Fabian said she “wouldn’t strongly dispute” that 700 was an approximate number, transcripts show.

Three days later, on May 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration would be taking a “zero tolerance” approach to the border, aiming to prosecute 100 percent of those individuals caught crossing the border illegally and separating them from their children in the process. On May 23, Richard Hudson, Deputy Chief of the Operations Program for Customs and Border Protection, appeared before the Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration, where he was asked about the number of children separated from their parents since Sessions’ directive went into effect. Hudson testified that in the two weeks following Sessions’ directive, “658 children with 638 adults” were placed “in the prosecution process.” Building on the 700 cases previously reported by the New York Times, the revelation brought the total number of children known to have been impacted by the practice so far, as acknowledged by the U.S. government, to 1,358.

Hudson’s testimony also revealed the number of children


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