The undocumented immigrant from Honduras sobbed as she told an attorney Tuesday how federal authorities took her daughter while she breastfed the child in a detention center, where she was awaiting prosecution for entering the country illegally.
When the woman resisted, she was handcuffed, Natalia Cornelio, the attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, recalled from her interview with the woman, who had been detained under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy to refer anyone caught crossing the border illegally for federal prosecution.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the family separation policy last month. “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions said. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
Miguel Nogueras, an assistant federal public defender in south Texas, told CNN that since the new policy was announced last month, roughly 500 children have been ripped apart from their parents. Last week, the Intercept reported that 1,358 children and counting have been separated from their parents.
Nogueras added that parents who are under arrest say they don’t know what happened to their kids, and others have said that authorities have lied to them and said their children were going to be bathed, and then were taken from them. This tracks with what another public defender told the Boston Globe earlier this week:
Aleman-Bendiks, the public defender, said several of her clients have told her their children were taken from them by Border Patrol agents who said they were going to give them a bath. As the hours passed, it dawned on the mothers the kids were not coming back.
“It’s incredible,” she said. “I just can’t believe what’s happening here.”
“I would tell you nothing could be further from the truth and these allegations are unsubstantiated,” Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesman Daniel Hetlage told the Independent after they asked about the claims.
Nogueras also told CNN that during the past two presidential administrations, the federal public defender’s office in McAllen, TX handled about 20 or 30 cases per day involving minor crimes; during this one, their caseload has exploded. On Monday, CNN reported, they handled 170 cases of undocumented immigrants charged with entering the country illegally.
“The government is essentially torturing people by doing this,” Natalia Cornelio, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, told CNN. Last week, the Washington Post reported that a Honduran father who had been separated from his wife and child committed suicide in a Texas jail.
In a just world, everyone involved in this decision would eventually be arrested for their crimes. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.