Trump Administration Holding Immigrant Children in Cages-Mostly Truth! & Misleading!
Summary of eRumor:
As part of its “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration, the Trump administration holds immigrant children in cages after separating them from their parents.
There are many questions about the Trump administration’s use of detention centers to hold immigrant children. One of the most potent claims has been that immigrant children are held in cages.
Based on first-person accounts and historical records, chain-link enclosures similar to cages are used to separate children during processing at at least one U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) facility. It’s not clear how long children are held there for processing. However, that facility was in use in 2014, before Trump took office. Given that, we’re calling this one “mostly truth” and “misleading.”
Background on the ‘Zero Tolerance’ Immigration Policy
First, we’ll take a step back. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions laid the groundwork for the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration enforcement policy in May. In speeches delivered in Arizona and California, he warned that all who cross the border illegally would be prosecuted. Session singled out parents, warning that children “will be separated” from adults attempting to smuggle children across the border. That set the stage for debate over the treatment of immigrant children.
The zero tolerance policy has drawn fierce opposition. Opponents argue that parents who bring children to the U.S. in search of asylum have not broken any laws, and its ethically wrong to separate them from their children. But the parent-child separation policy has been in place since at least October 2016.
From October 2016 to February 2018, Reuters reports that federal officers had separated 1,800 families at the U.S.-Mexico border. And detention centers were used to house immigrant children before that. In fact, the USA Today Network published photos of immigrant children being held in chain-link enclosures in 2014.
But the practice of separating parents and children escalated under President Trump. About 700 families were separated from October 2017 to April 2018, the New York Times reports. It escalated even more under the zero tolerance policy. From May 6-19, 658 children were separated from their parents at the border. That’s according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
By mid-June, the federal government reportedly had about 11,000 immigrant children in custody. However, that figure includes children who arrived at the border unaccompanied, as well as those who were separated from their parents.
Are Immigrant Children Being Held in Cages?
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, made headlines in early June when he visited the CBP Border Station in McAllen, Texas. He said the first room in the facility “had a series of cages that look a lot like dog kennels.” Adjacent warehouses, Merkley said, had larger chain-link fenced areas that contained young boys. He was denied entry to another detention facility in Brownsville, Texas.
The White House issued a statement accusing Merkley of “irresponsibly spreading blatant lies about routine immigration enforcement.” However, photos taken inside the McAllen Border Station in 2014 show chain link enclosures. Similar photos of the facility were taken by the office of U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, in August 2014. And a description of the processing facility appearing in a local newspaper The Monitor in 2014 describes the eclosures:
Inside, chain-link fence provides the walls to create four pods, each including a central area, six smaller enclosures with benches and a cell of portable toilets. Brightly painted platforms in the center of each pod allow staff to watch over the kids, who will be separated by age between the smaller enclosures, said Roel Rodriguez, who will be running the center.
That description matches Merkley’s account of the facility.
Since the story first emerged in early June, however, DHS has allowed media outlets limited access to the Brownsville detention facility. The facility is a licensed child care facility operated by a nonprofit called Southwest Key, media reports. MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff did not report finding any cages inside, but said “effectively these kids are incarcerated.”
So, it’s true that at least one CBP processing facility uses fence-like enclosures. However, that facility was in use before Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. And other CBP detention facilities are operated as licensed child care centers. Given all that, we’re calling this one “mostly truth” and “misleading.”