Asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border.Gregory Bull/AP
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A new report by Amnesty International finds that the Trump administration has separated far more immigrant families than it has publicly admitted. Amnesty reports that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) forcibly separated more than 6,000 family units between mid-April and mid-August under the White House’s “zero tolerance” policy. That number, it says, “excluded countless other families whose separations were not recorded.”
Drawing on data from the past two years, Amnesty also reports that the Trump administration separated an additional 1,800 family units before April. In total, it concludes that approximately 8,000 family units have been torn apart after crossing the US-Mexico border.
It is not clear how many people this affected; “family unit” may refer to individual members of a family or an entire family. It was previously thought that 2,600 children had been taken from their parents; Amnesty’s data suggest the actual number could be much higher. Many members of the separated families were sent to detention centers or deported without being reunited with their loved ones.
The new report, called “You Don’t Have Any Rights Here,” is based on court documents and legal files, research along the border, and interviews with asylum-seekers, immigration attorneys, and officials from CBP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and detention facilities. The report slams President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, saying they have caused “irreparable harm to thousands of people” by illegally turning back asylum-seekers, breaking families apart, and arbitrarily detaining border crossers. These policies, Amnesty contends, have violated US and international law and “rose to the level of torture in some cases”:
The policy and practice of indefinitely detaining asylum-seekers, based solely on their migration status, constitute arbitrary detention in violation of US and international law. Indefinite detention without criminal charge is in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture, which the United States ratified and integrated into US law.
“The Trump administration is waging a deliberate campaign of widespread human rights violations in order to punish and deter people seeking safety at the US–Mexico border,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
The report comes on the heels of major investigations into the plight of migrants who have attempted to enter the United States during the Trump administration. A recent Associated Press report revealed that children whose parents were deported may be put up for adoption due to loopholes in state court systems that allow judges to give American families custody of migrant children without notifying their birth parents. Earlier this week, the Arizona Republic reported that a shelter for unaccompanied migrant children in Tucson was shuttered after reports that staff members had physically abused three children. Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog found that the agency failed to adequately track separated families, and in some cases, families may have been separated so that CBP officials could fill out less paperwork.