The Numbers That Confirm Trump Has Been Splitting Up Families for No Reason

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When Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of family separation in April, he declared that “a crisis has erupted at our Southwest border.”

Sessions went on to say there was a 203% increase in illegal border crossings from March 2017 to March 2018.

As it turns out, his citing of that figure was mighty convenient. It turns out that the numbers of people arrested at the border has been on an overall downward trend for years. In fact, Border Patrol arrests are currently at half the levels they were five years ago, and—most importantly—the number of both unaccompanied minors and families arrested at the border are actually down from even last year.


Now, after more than 2,600 children have been separated from their parents, we’re learning the only crisis that has erupted at the border is the one the Trump administration created to deter immigrants from coming to the U.S.

The number of Border Patrol arrests of both adults with children and unaccompanied minors in 2018 is lower than it was during the same period last year, according to government records analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University (emphasis mine):

In fact, the number of adults apprehended with children so far during FY 2018 (23,162) is still 14.5 percent lower than the number of adults arrested with children during the same seven-month period in FY 2017 (27,080). The number of unaccompanied children arrested by the Border Patrol this year is also down as compared with the same period during FY 2017.

Further, in April 2018, the same month that Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the “zero tolerance” enforcement policy in response to the alleged crisis on the border, there were a total of 4,537 adults arriving with children, a relatively small number compared to the 24,876 adults arrested without children that same month.

The relatively low number of arrests of families and unaccompanied children underscores the real reason why the Trump administration is tearing families apart: to deter all immigrants from coming to the U.S.

TRAC obtained the Border Patrol records after a lengthy Freedom of Information Act fight. The nonpartisan data gathering group obtained records from October 2014 through April 2018 and found that most unaccompanied children arrested recently were between the age of 16 or 17. The children who have been separated from their parents, however, are much younger:

As of April 2018, over half (51.2%) of the children arrested with parents this fiscal year were only 7 years of age or younger. Nearly a quarter (22.9%) were three or younger. Only 5 percent were as old as 17.


The data also reveals “several hundred parents were deported apparently without their children during April of this year alone.”

I have reached out to the Department of Justice for comment and will update if I hear back.

Senior staff writer

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