The Trump administration is not answering basic questions about separation of migrant families

President Trump
President Trump with his executive order ending family separations at the border. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

WASHINGTON — Almost two weeks have passed since President Trump signed an executive order to “address” immigrant children being taken from their parents at the U.S. border, but the impact of his action remains unclear.

Much of the uncertainty stems from the fact that officials on Tuesday still would not answer basic questions about the issue, including how many separated children are currently in custody. Officials also aren’t saying whether the government has stopped taking immigrant children from their parents after illegal border crossings.

The spate of separations began as a result of a “zero tolerance” policy on immigration that the Trump administration enacted in May that called for treating every illegal border crossing as a crime. As a result, children were sometimes taken from their parents at the border and held in U.S. detention facilities until legal proceedings concluded. This led to widespread outrage and protests, including a series of over 700 marches around the country on June 30.

Trump’s executive order, signed on June 20, called for the Department of Homeland Security to “maintain custody of alien families” to the “extent permitted by law” when resources are available. However, it had no effect on the more than 2,000 children already in custody who had been separated from their parents. Since then, the question surfaced again on a conference call with reporters to discuss the situation. The officials repeatedly declined to answer a question about whether separations had stopped due to an “implementation phase” on Trump’s executive order. In the week since that call, officials from HHS and the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees both U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol, have not responded to multiple questions from Yahoo News about whether children are still being separated from their parents at the border.

Yahoo News again asked HHS spokesperson Kenneth Wolfe if children are still being separated from their parents on Tuesday. He responded with a statement that didn’t answer the question and simply said the agency is focused on “reunifying children and teenagers with a relative or appropriate sponsor.”

“Reunification is always the ultimate goal of those entrusted with the care of unaccompanied alien children, and we are working toward that for those unaccompanied alien children currently in our custody,” said Wolfe.

Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Patrick Semansky/AP
Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders similarly dodged a question the day before about the situation at the border. Daily Caller reporter Saagar Enjeti asked Sanders point blank, “What is current U.S. policy at the border?” Enjeti went on to specify that he wanted to know if the “zero tolerance” policy is still in effect. Sanders responded that Trump’s executive order “bought some time for Congress” to come up with a larger immigration reform solution. Her answer did not address whether the zero tolerance policy was still in effect and whether children were still being taken from their parents at the border.

“The clock is ticking. And Congress needs to act to fix this process because we’re running out of time on what we have the ability to do, particularly with the district court that weighed in just last week,” Sanders said.

Along with not answering whether immigrant children are still being taken from their parents, Trump administration officials are declining to provide updates on how many separated children remain in custody. On Monday, Splinter News received a statement from HHS that said it would no longer provide this information due to pending court cases and “the constantly changing number of unaccompanied alien children in our care.”

“While we understand the interest in detailed breakdowns of this information, our mission has been and remains to provide every minor transferred to HHS, regardless of the circumstances, with quality and age-appropriate care and a speedy and safe release to a sponsor,” the statement said.

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