- John Carlos Freyaward-winning investigative reporter with The Marshall Project and special correspondent with PBS NewsHour. He is recently back from reporting trips in Guatemala and Nogales, Mexico, where he spoke with asylum seekers waiting for days and even weeks to enter the United States.
Nearly three weeks after the court-imposed deadline for reuniting families forcibly separated at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Trump administration has admitted that 559 children remain in government custody. More than 360 of these children are separated from parents who have been deported by the U.S. government. Most of the families separated at the border were seeking asylum from violence in their home countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Instead, the parents were charged in federal court with a crime for illegally crossing the border, then held in jail and detention. The children, some still breastfeeding, were sent to shelters around the country. Judge Dana Sabraw, who ruled the Trump administration must reunite all separated families, said, “For every parent who is not located, there will be a permanent orphaned child, and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration.” For more, we speak with John Carlos Frey, award-winning investigative reporter with The Marshall Project and special correspondent with ”PBS NewsHour.” He is recently back from reporting trips in Guatemala and Nogales, Mexico, where he spoke with asylum seekers waiting for days and even weeks to enter the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Nearly three weeks after the court-imposed deadline for reuniting families forcibly separated at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Trump administration has admitted that 559 children remain in government custody without their parents. More than 360 of these kids are separated from parents who have been deported by the U.S. government. The government said last week it’s still searching for 26 parents they separated from their children.
The Trump administration has argued the ACLU—not the government—should use its network of advocacy groups and information from the government to locate the parents that the government removed to foreign countries. Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in response, “The government appears to be taking the remarkable position that it is the job of private entities to find these parents, and it can largely sit back and wait for us to tell them when we find people,” Gelernt said.
Most of the families separated at the border were seeking asylum from violence in their home countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Instead, the parents were charged in federal court with a crime for illegally crossing the border, then held in jail and detention. The children, some still breastfeeding, were sent to shelters around the country.
The separation of families has sparked massive condemnation and protest, including an Instagram campaign called “Dear Ivanka,” in which celebrities, including Amy Schumer and Chelsea Handler, are calling on the president’s daughter, who is the senior White House adviser, to take action on the ongoing crisis of family separation.
Judge Dana Sabraw, who issued the executive order demanding the Trump administration reunite all separated families, said, “For every parent who is not located, there will be a permanent orphaned child, and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration,” the judge wrote.
Well, for more, we’re joined by John Carlos Frey, award-winning investigative reporter with The Marshall Project, special correspondent with the PBS NewsHour. He’s recently back from reporting trips in Guatemala and Nogales, Mexico, where he spoke with asylum seekers waiting for days, even weeks, to enter the United States still.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, John. Tell us what you found.
JOHN CARLOS FREY: Thank you. Well, I found asylum seekers who are waiting in line to make a claim of asylum. These are individuals who have fled their home countries because of violence, domestic violence, gang violence. They have every right to make a claim of asylum, and the Trump administration has decided to put a kibosh on it. People are having to wait in extended lines, up to two weeks, at the U.S.-Mexico border, just to make a claim of asylum. This is further endangering their lives. They’re in a foreign country. They usually don’t have any money. They don’t have a home. They don’t have a place to sleep. Many of these individuals are there with their children. And having to wait two weeks in some sort of a fictitious line just to make a claim of asylum is caused by the Trump administration’s restrictions on asylum seekers.
So, I’m working on a story right now to try and figure out why the Trump administration is slowing down the process. In addition, they’re also restricting the claims of asylum, what individuals can actually claim as a reason for an asylum claim. And those restrictions, I think, are targeted directly at Central America. Jeff Sessions has said they are no longer going to be honoring claims of domestic violence and no longer honoring claims of gang violence as reasons to make a claim of asylum. This is exactly why Central Americans are coming. Gang violence is out of control in Central America, and domestic violence in Honduras and Guatemala is the worst in the world. Honduras is the capital for femicide in the world, and I think Guatemala ranks third for women who are abused by their husbands and killed. So, these individuals are leaving with legitimate reasons to make claims of asylum, and the Trump administration is basically saying, “You’re not welcome anymore.”
AMY GOODMAN: So, John, talk about these 559 children.
JOHN CARLOS FREY: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, first we thought it was 2,500 children that the government had snatched from their parents. In many of these cases, the parents didn’t even get a receipt for their children, like when you go on an airplane and you get a receipt for the baggage that you willingly give over.
JOHN CARLOS FREY: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: They didn’t even realize their children were being taken from them, some told they were being given a bath. We thought there were 2,500, then the government changed it one day and said, “OK, you can say 3,000,” or they said nearly 3,000. And now they say 559 kids haven’t been reunited with their parents. Where are the kids? Where are the parents?
JOHN CARLOS FREY: Well, if we all knew where the kids were and where the parents were, they would be reunited. This is a debacle. This is poor management at the very least. This is an inhumane practice of not being able to match children with their parents. In many cases, records were not kept or taken, something simple like a cheek swab for a DNA sample so that there could be an accurate match—excuse me—especially if you’re trying to match children who may be too young to talk, who may be too young to identify their family members—that is a possibility, as well. There is evidence to prove that in 26 cases with parents, that the government didn’t take any information at all; they just took the kids from 26 parents without taking names, without taking any form of identification or any way of even matching them. There’s also evidence to show that at least five children remain nameless, without any sort of identification on them. So these children, we don’t even know who they are, whose parents they are. They’ll never be reunited. I’ve also heard in some cases that the parents who have been deported have given up. They’re not going to look for their children anymore, because it’s futile, and they think that maybe the kids might have a better life in the United States anyway. So, this is a disaster built exactly from the hands of the Trump administration.
I’ve also heard, while I’ve been at the border in Nogales, that children are still being separated. I don’t think that that’s being reported enough, that this is still a process. The odd thing about it is that asylum seekers, when they come from Central America especially, they believe—and I’m not quite sure why this is a belief, but they believe that if they bring their children, they have a better chance of actually getting asylum. It’s some form of proof, they believe, that if they have their children in tow, that maybe they’ll get into the country easier. So people are still continuing to bring their children, even though they’ve been separated—
AMY GOODMAN: Wait.
JOHN CARLOS FREY: —mostly because they don’t have a choice.
AMY GOODMAN: Just if you can repeat what you just said?
JOHN CARLOS FREY: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Children are still being separated from their parents? The Trump administration said this is not true, and there have been, you know, federal judges who have ruled this cannot happen.
JOHN CARLOS FREY: I visited a shelter in Guatemala where migrants had been deported. And this was less than a week ago that I was there. And there was a family there that had had their children separated from them about three weeks ago, which would have been past the deadline actually to reunite the children, not even saying that they weren’t going to be separating children anymore. Legally—and this is tenuous at best—but legally, the Trump administration is allowed to remove children from their parents, if the parents—if we can prove that the parents have committed some form of a crime. If the parents are going to be incarcerated, then, by law, the administration, the federal government, has the right to remove the children. So, we’re not quite sure what these individuals are being charged with. That information has not been forthcoming. The ACLU has—through a FOIA request, has asked for the charges against these parents. What are the criminal charges? Why are these kids being separated? But they’re still charging parents with some form of a crime. We’re not sure if it’s the crime of illegal entry into the United States or some other crime that might be in their background. But kids are still being separated, at least by individuals that I’ve spoken to.
AMY GOODMAN: And do you know where they’re being put?
JOHN CARLOS FREY: Nobody knows where they’re being put. I mean, children who are being separated from their parents, if they’re teenagers, usually go to places that we handle unaccompanied minors. These facilities are equipped to handle teenagers. These are kids that usually come to the United States border by themselves, so the facilities can handle that. But infants and toddlers, kids that may still need some sort of formula or had been breastfeeding or maybe are too young to talk, where do we put them? We can’t put them in a facility with teenagers. We have to put them in some sort of a maybe a neonatal or a child care facility. The United States government isn’t equipped to do that. These are all makeshift shelters. So, we’re not privy to the information of where they’re actually being held.