Family Separation at the U.S.-Mexico Border
Family Separation at the U.S.-Mexico Border refers to the controversial practice of detaining families of undocumented migrants at the United States and Mexico border and, in the process, placing parents and their children in disparate locations. While neither a law nor a specific policy, the practice that has been met with wide-spread condemnation, as well as a number of controversial explanations from the Trump administration.
On November 25th, 2017, the Houston Chronicle reported that the Trump administration was ending the "catch and release immigration" policy, which allowed parents and children who attempted to cross the border between Mexico and the United States illegally to remain intact until their case appeared in immigration court. By ending such a policy, Attorney General Jeff Session indicated that the White House would be putting in place a zero-tolerance rule that would prosecute adults at the border and, in effect, would separate parents from children, placing both in different detention centers while they awaited trial. The Houston Chronicle wrote:
"The Houston Chronicle has identified 22 cases since June  in which parents like Mejia with no history of immigration violations were prosecuted for the misdemeanor crime of improper entry and had their children removed. Minors cannot be kept in federal prison.
On May 7th, 2018 Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that zero tolerance enforcement had gone into effect, stating that there would be 100 percent prosecution of people entering the United States illegally. He said, "If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border."
As of June 2018, the Associated Press reported that nearly 1,800 families had been separated between October 2016 to February 2018. Within three months, that number reached more than 2,400 families.
On June 5th, 2018, President Donald Trump falsely claimed that the policy was enacted by democratic lawmakers but did not provide proof. He tweeted,  "Separating families at the Border is the fault of bad legislation passed by the Democrats. Border Security laws should be changed but the Dems can’t get their act together! Started the Wall." Within two weeks, the post received more than 18,000 retweets and 82,000 likes.
During an interview with the New York Times, Stephen Miller, the President's senior policy adviser, said the practice was a "simple decision" and was being used as a deterrent. He said, "No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement. It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”
On June 14th, Sessions cited the bible as reason for the policy, claiming that it was "very biblical" to enforce the law. He said, "Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution […] I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves … and protect the weak and it protects the lawful."
On June 17th, 2018, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen denied that there was a policy for separating parents from children. She tweeted, "This misreporting by Members, press & advocacy groups must stop. It is irresponsible and unproductive. As I have said many times before, if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry […] We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period." The post (shown below) was met with extensive criticism, received more than 2,800 retweets, 5,400 likes and 43,000 comments.
Jeff Sessions "Nazi" Comment
On June 18th, Laura Ingraham discussed the controversy on Fox News. During her monologue, she described the detention centers as "essentially summer camps" or "boarding schools." Additionally, she chastised criticism of the practice as "faux liberal outrage."
During the broadcast, Ingraham interview Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who responded to criticism of the dentention centers, which have been compared to Nazi concentration camps. He said, "Nazi Germany, concentration camps, human-rights violations. What’s going on here? Well, it’s a real exaggeration, of course. In Nazi Germany, they were keeping the Jews from leaving the country. But this is a serious matter."
Here's video of Sessions' remarks on the Nazi Germany comparisonpic.twitter.com/IuWPkFpGw4
— Brian Tashman (@briantashman) June 19, 2018
Child Detention Centers
Following reports that the practice of separating parents from children began receiving national attention, focus shifted, in part, to where the children were being held. One viral photograph of a young boy in a cage quickly became a popular rallying point for immigration advocates. Twitter user @joseiswriting tweeted the photography with the caption, "This is what happens when a government believes people are 'illegal.' Kids in cages." The post (shown below) received more than 24,000 retweets and 35,000 likes in one week.
"The photograph was taken on 10 June 2018, but it did not show a child confined by immigration authorities to a cage. Rather, it was snapped during a protest staged in front of Dallas City Hall to call attention to the Trump administration’s practice of separating families and confining undocumented children. Different photographs of the event document that the same child was standing a mocked-up 'cage' open at the top, and several commenters noted that the boy was crying not because he was confined, but because he saw his mother outside the pen and could not immediately figure out how to get to her."
On June 14th, NPR published photographs of minors in detention centers were released by the Department of Health and Human Services, included photographs of boys wearing barcode bracelets being scanned during meals and a mural of President Trump with the caption, "Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war." The photographs were taken at Casa Padre, which is a former Walmart supercenter that at the time held nearly 1,500 immigrant boys.
That day, CBS News Correspondent David Begnaud posted a video of the detention center provided by the U.S. government. He wrote, "BREAKING: Border Patrol @CBP just gave us this video of the detention facility we toured yesterday in McAllen, Texas. We weren't allowed to bring in cameras, or interview anyone. To be clear: this is government handout video." Within hours, the post (shown below) received more than 1,900 retweets and 2,700 likes.
BREAKING: Border Patrol
CBP</a> just gave us this video of the detention facility we toured yesterday in McAllen, Texas. We weren't allowed to bring in cameras, or interview anyone. To be clear: this is government handout video. <a href="https://t.co/Zjy80qIZFZ">pic.twitter.com/Zjy80qIZFZ</a></p>— David Begnaud (DavidBegnaud) June 18, 2018
Audio of Children in Detention Centers
On June 18th, the independent, nonprofit news organization ProPublica released audio of 10 Central America children at one of the the detention centers who had been separated from their parents by immigration authorities. In the clip, children can be heard crying and saying "mami" and "papá." A border patrol agent can also be heard saying, "Well, we have an orchestra here. What’s missing is a conductor." Within 24 hours, the clip (shown below) has been viewed more than 1.8 million times.
In the article about the clip, ProPublica explains how they came to obtain the audio. They wrote:
"The audio obtained by ProPublica breaks that silence. It was recorded last week inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility. The person who made the recording asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. That person gave the audio to Jennifer Harbury, a well-known civil rights attorney who has lived and worked for four decades in the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas border with Mexico. Harbury provided it to ProPublica. She said the person who recorded it was a client who 'heard the children’s weeping and crying, and was devastated by it.'
"The person estimated that the children on the recording are between 4 and 10 years old. It appeared that they had been at the detention center for less than 24 hours, so their distress at having been separated from their parents was still raw. Consulate officials tried to comfort them with snacks and toys. But the children were inconsolable."
That day, Splinter News writer Jorge Rivas tweeted a video of reporters listening to the audio. He wrote, "Reporters are listening to audio of kids crying in border patrol facility, moments ahead of press briefing @ProPublica." Within 24 hours, the tweet (shown below) received more than 3,200 retweets and 5,200 likes.
— Jorge Rivas (@thisisjorge) June 18, 2018
That day, actor Ron Perlman tweeted, "Been listening to the audio from the detention camps of little kids pleading, begging, panicked…I can’t stop crying." The post (shown below, left) received more than 5,700 retweets and 21,000 likes in 24 hours. Twitter user @OMalley_HG tweeted, “'I know she’s not an American citizen,' the aunt said of her niece. 'But she’s a human being. She’s a child. How can they treat her this way?' I truly have no words."
Twitter user @MrFilmkritik tweeted, "I love the reporter who decided to play the audio of crying children at yesterday's Nielsen press conference. I hope they keep doing this during every press-facing event. Never let these fuckers live it down." The post (shown below, right) received more than 90 retweets and 390 likes in 24 hours.
On June 20th, President Trump said that he would be signing an executive order which would ban the practice of separating families at the border. According to the New York Times, "Mr. Trump’s executive order would seek to get around an existing 1997 consent decree, known as the Flores settlement, that prohibits the federal government from keeping children in immigration detention -- even if they are with their parents -- for more than 20 days."
In response to President Trump's announcement, American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero released a statement:
"President Trump has been brought to his knees because of the lawsuit we filed on February 26 and the ensuing public outcry. Kids should not have been separated from their parents in the first place and they still don’t belong in jail. His alleged solution to a crisis of his own making is many months too late. It is a crisis that should not have happened to begin with. He has caused irreparable damage to thousands of immigrant families.
"The devil is in the details. This crisis will not abate until each and every single child is reunited with his or her parent. An eleventh-hour executive order doesn’t fix the calamitous harm done to thousands of children and their parents. This executive order would replace one crisis for another. Children don’t belong in jail at all, even with their parents, under any set of circumstances. If the president thinks placing families in jail indefinitely is what people have been asking for, he is grossly mistaken."
That day, Trump signed the executive order that aimed to end the use of family separation in lieu of detaining parents and children together for an indefinite period of time. However, the executive order may face legal scrutiny as a 1997 court ruling may not allow the Trump administration to hold families for more than 20 days. Additionally, the executive order does not address how the Trump administration will handle the more than 2,300 children who have already been separated from their parents.
The executive order was criticized by many. Former Director of U.S. Office of Government Ethics Walter Schaub tweeted, "BOTTOM LINE: 1. THE CHILDREN HAVE NOT BEEN RETURNED 2. THE SEPARATIONS HAVE NOT STOPPED YET 3. LOOPHOLES IN THE EXECUTIVE ORDER CREATE WIGGLE ROOM TO DO IT AGAIN 4. THE LIES ('no policy, period' 'only Congress can stop this') HAVE BEEN EXPOSED SO THEY GET NO BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT." The post (shown below) received more than 20,000 retweets and 44,000 likes in 24 hours.
Online, some compared the practice to Nazi concentration camps, which were used during World War II. Twitter user @randygdub tweeted, "welcome to your child concentration camp. enjoy this stupid success win quote that makes no fucking sense." The post (shown below) received more than 1,500 retweets and 6,700 likes in four days.
Many online opposed the practice, criticizing it for being cruel and inhumane, using such hashtags as #KeepingFamiliesTogetherAct and #ImmigrantChildren. Actor Alyssa Milano tweeted at Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, criticizing him for not signing a policy that would make this practice illegal. She tweeted, "You are the only senator in the Democratic Party that has not signed on to the #KeepingFamiliesTogetherAct, @Sen_JoeManchin. The Only One." The post (shown below, left) received more than 13,00 retweets and 30,000 likes in 24 hours.
New York representative Carolyn B. Maloney tweeted, "We are at the ICE Detention Center in Elizabeth, NJ. where ICE is denying us entry to meet with fathers separated from their families. They’re now covering the windows with paper so we can't see in. This is not America. #FamiliesBelongTogther #FathersDay." The post (shown below, center) received more than 7,800 retweets and 11,000 likes in 24 hours.
Former President Bill Clinton tweeted, "On this Father’s Day I’m thinking of the thousands of children separated from their parents at the border. These children should not be a negotiating tool. And reuniting them with their families would reaffirm America’s belief in & support for all parents who love their children." The post (shown below, right) received more than 38,000 retweets and 146,000 likes in 24 hours.
Corey Lewandowski's "Womp Womp" Comment
On June 19th, 2018, former Trump campaign official Corey Lewandowski appeared on Fox News to discuss the controversy. While being told about a 10-year-old girl with Downs Syndrome who was separated from her parents, Lewandowski interupped to say, "womp womp," mimicking the sound of a trombone, which signifies sarcastic compassion.
That day, Twitter user @jiveDurkey published a video of the changes with the comment: "you sitting down? here’s Corey Lewandowski mockingly saying “womp womp” to the story of a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who was separated from her mother at the border." The post (shown below) received more than 30,000 retweets and 47,000 likes in 24 hours.
you sitting down?here’s Corey Lewandowski mockingly saying “womp womp” to the story of a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who was separated from her mother at the border. pic.twitter.com/6lQZ7abkY4
— J.D. Durkin (@jiveDurkey) June 20, 2018
Shortly after, people online chastised Lewandowski for his comments. Meghan McCain, co-host of The View, tweeted, "This is so horrible, even by Lewandowski standards." The post (shown below, left) recevied more than 5,300 retweets and 23,000 likes in 24 hours.
Former Fox News host and NBC News anchor Megyn Kelly tweeted, "There is no low to which this coward Corey Lewandowski won’t sink. This man should not be afforded a national platform to spew his hate." The post (shown below, center) received more than 10,000 retweets and 40,000 likes in 24 hours.
Daily Beast writer Sam Stein tweeted an image of President Trump mocking a reporter with disability and the comment, "How could Corey Lewandowski possibly think he could get away with such a crass, disgusting mockery of someone with disabilities????" The post (shown below, right) received more than 10,000 retweets and 30,000 likes in 24 hours.
That evening, Twitter published a Moments page regarding the reaction to the comment.
Lewandowski refused to apologize for the comment. He said:
"An apology? I owe an apology to the children whose parents are putting them in a position that is forcing them to be separated. We owe an apology to Jamiel Shaw and Brian Terry and Kate Steinle's family who have allowed those individuals to be killed by illegal aliens. The American people owe an apology to those people. When you cross the border illegally, you have committed a crime and there is accountability for committing crimes and there should be."
That evening, Twitter user @ASanki tweeted a document that tied Lewandowski to a political action committee that works with a company that owns private immigration detention facilities. They wrote, "Corey Lewandowski, who said 'womp womp' on national TV today regarding a 10-year old immigrant girl with Down Syndrome being taken from her mother, works for a PAC that gets donations from a company that owns private immigration detention facilities." The post (shown below) received more than 15,000 retweets and 15,000 likes in 24 hours.
Rachel Maddow Breakdown
On June 19th, MSNBC host began crying during her evening broadcast while reporting that infants had been forcibly removed from their parents. Intercept journalist Shaun King shared video of the moment with the comment, "This is Rachel Maddow upon getting the breaking news that Trump has established detention centers for babies who've been forcefully taken from their parents." The post (shown below) received more than 15,000 retweets and 28,000 likes in 24 hours.
This is Rachel Maddow upon getting the breaking news that Trump has established detention centers for babies who've been forcefully taken from their parents. FULL STORY: https://t.co/By54MCjWmQ pic.twitter.com/OX2XBNVKM4— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) June 20, 2018
Rachel Maddow later apologized for the breakdown, claiming that it was unprofessional. She said in a Twitter thread, "Ugh, I'm sorry. If nothing else, it is my job to actually be able to speak while I'm on TV. What I was trying to do -- when I suddenly couldn't say/do anything -- was read this lede:" The post (shown below, left) received more than 29,000 retweets and 108,000 likes in 24 hours.
CapehartJ tweeted, "maddow In a nation that is losing its heart, never apologize for showing yours. Your emotion is the nation's. You were not and are not alone." The post (shown below, center) received more than 2,300 retweets and 11,000 likes in 24 hours.
Twitter user @tonyposnanski compared the moment to Lewandowski's "womp womp" comments. He tweeted, "A tale of two parties…Rachel Maddow breaks down while reporting about children being taken from their parents…Corey Lewandowski mocks a girl with Down Syndrome being taken from her parents…You decide which side of history you want to be on. I have." The post (shown below, right) received more than 47,000 retweets and 133,000 likes in 24 hours.
On June 16th, 2018, Facebook users Charlotte and Dave Willner launched a Facebook fundraiser for RAICES. Within four days, the campaign raised more than $12.5 million of its $15 million goal. Additionally, more than 320,000 Facebook users donated. Facebook has said that it's the single largest fundraiser in Facebook's history.
The Willners wrote of the campaign:
"We are raising money for RAICES (https://www.facebook.com/raicestexas), the largest immigration legal services provider in Texas. For years, RAICES has been working with some of the most vulnerable members of our society to ensure they receive advocacy and fair legal representation. They have two key goals at this time: directly fund bond to allow parents to reclaim their detained children, and ensure legal representation for every separated family and every unaccompanied child in Texas' immigration courts (last year, 76% of kids (over 13,000!) did not have representation)
"You may have heard the news that the president will sign an executive order today to reunite families. We are hopeful that the president will stop family separation, but that doesn't mean our work is over or that our focus can go elsewhere. A change in policy doesn't automatically bring babies back to their mothers or erase the trauma from these innocent kids. RAICES' work becomes more important than ever."
Stephen Miller Doxxing
On June 20th, 2018, Splinter News published White House adviser Stephen Miller's phone number on their website. The cellphone number has since been deactivated.
Following the release of the phone number, the Twitter account for the controversial social media website Gab, which has been called "a social media app dubbed 'a haven for white nationalists'" by Media Matters, tweeted, "So 'journalists' want to continue playing the 'let’s dox people' game. I have a feeling they will be regretting this move." The post (shown below, left) received more than 20 retweets and 70 likes in 24 hours.
Following the reporting, Splinter and various members of the Splinter News staff were temporarily banned from Twitter (examples below).
In a statement to Endgadget, a Twitter spokesperson said of the incident:
It’s against our policies to share other people’s private information on Twitter, including directly linking to that information. Today, we temporarily blocked accounts that shared this information until they deleted the Tweet that violated our rules. At this time, the number that was previously being shared is no longer a valid number and, as such, we are no longer enforcing our policy against individuals Tweeting or linking to that information.
On June 21st, Time Magazine tweeted their cover for that week's magazine, which depicts President Trump looking down at a crying migrant child. The organization posted the image on Twitter (shown below) with the caption, "TIME’s new cover: A reckoning after Trump's border separation policy: What kind of country are we?" The post (shown below) received more than 33,000 retweets and 44,000 likes in 24 hours.
Melania Trump "I Really Don't Care, Do U?" Jacket
On June 21st, The Daily Mail reported the in a surprise visit to the boarder in Texas, First Lady Melania Trump wore a $39 Zara jacket that reads, "I really don't care, do u?" That day, Twitter user @timkmak tweeted, "Daily Mail reports that Melania Trump boarded her plane to Texas wearing a jacket that said on the back, 'I really don't care, do u?'" The post (shown below) received more than 3,700 retweets and 4,300 likes in 24 hours.
The jacket was quickly criticized as being a reflection of the First Lady's feelings on the controversy. A spokeswoman for the first lady responded by saying, "It's a jacket. There was no hidden message. After today's important visit to Texas, I hope this isn't what the media is going to choose to focus on."
Twitter @TheLincoln tweeted, "I agree that there is no 'hidden message' when the message is PAINTED IN GIANT LETTERS ON THE BACK FOR EVERYONE TO READ." The post (shown below, left) received more than 400 retweets and 1,200 likes in 24 hours.
Thought out the day, people continue to make comments and jokes about the jacket (examples below, center and right).
Homeland Security Chief Mexican Restaraunt Protest
On June 19th, a group of activists from the Democratic Socialist of America (D.S.A.) entered the Washinton, D.C. Mexican restaurant MXDC Cocina Mexicana to confront Homaland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who was dining at the time. The Metro D.C. chapter of the D.S.A. published a live video of the confrontation on Facebook. The post (shown below) received more than 2,700 reactions, 1,200 shares and one million views in less than 24 hours.
Later that evening, the group posted a statement on the protest. Margaret McLaughlin, a member of the Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America Steering Committee, said, "We will not stand by and let Secretary Nielsen dine in peace, while she is directing her employees to tear little girls away from their mothers and crying boys away from their fathers at our border." The post (shown below) received more than 1,100 reactions and 200 shares.
On June 20th, hundreds of activists and protestors went to LaGuardia Airport in New York City, to show support for migrant children who were separated from their parents and rumored to be flown there. While no migrant children arrived, "activists pledge to return to LGA as long as migrant children separated from their families are brought to New York."
Philip A. Hart Senate Office Building Protest
On June 28th, the Women's March, Center for Popular Democracy and other advocacy groups staged a sit-in at the Philip A. Hart Senate office to protest the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy. More than 500 protestors were arrested and roughly 575 people were charged with unlawfully demonstrating, receiving a $50 fine.
At least one of those arrested was a U.S. congressperson, Representative Pramila Jayapal. Following her arrest, she tweeted a video with the caption, "I was just arrested with 500+ women and @WomensMarch to say @RealDonaldTrump’s cruel zero-tolerance policy will not continue. Not in our country. Not in our name. June 30 we’re putting ourselves in the street again." The post (shown below) received more than 8,400 retweets and 21,000 likes in four days.
I was just arrested with 500+ women and
WomensMarch</a> to say <a href="https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">RealDonaldTrump’s cruel zero-tolerance policy will not continue. Not in our country. Not in our name.June 30 we’re putting ourselves in the street again.Join us. https://t.co/DdRHeFtTTr pic.twitter.com/P9uK0Z1Zay
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) June 28, 2018
Families Belong Together Protest
On June 30th, 2018, hundreds of thousands of people in the United States joined mass pretests of the Trump administrations policies. Protests were held in all 50 states and more than 700 events were organized in cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.
That day, Twitter account @MillenPolitics tweeted, "This is what democracy looks like. Over 700 protests all over the country demanding an end to Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy. We were proud to partner with @MoveOn & dozens of other organizations to help coordinate this day of action." The post (shown below, left) received more than 450 retweets and 760 likes in two days.
Twitter user @romyreiner tweeted a photograph of one of the protests, writing, "Trump’s puny crowd would be swallowed by the crowds that showed up yesterday. #FamiliesBelongTogether." Within 24 hours, the post (shown below, center) received more than 120 retweets and 600 likes.
Others online shared pictures of protest signs. Twitter user @JaclynCorin tweeted a picture of a man holding a sign that reads, "Stop gun violence not immigrants fleeing violence." The post (shown below, right) received more than 1,000 retweets and 4,700 likes in 24 hours.
During the protest in Los Angeles, California, Representative Maxine Waters, who received several death threats that week, delivered a speech that was widely shared online. She said in her speech, "We have some members of Congress who are intimidated. I have no fear. I’m in this fight…If you shoot me, you better shoot straight. There’s nothing like a wounded animal…They dare me to say impeach him. Today I say Impeach 45." CNN's Keith Boykin tweeted a video of the speech (shown below), which received more than 6,500 retweets and 19,000 likes in 24 hours.
Rep. Maxine Waters: "We have some members of Congress who are intimidated. I have no fear. I’m in this fight…If you shoot me, you better shoot straight. There’s nothing like a wounded animal…They dare me to say impeach him. Today I say Impeach 45." #FamiliesBelongTogether pic.twitter.com/OwNTvR5PSg— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) July 1, 2018
 The New York Times – Trump Administration Considers Separating Families to Combat Illegal Immigration
 Daily Intelligencer Sessions Makes False Claims About Nazis’ Plan for Jews
 ProPublica – Listen to Children Who’ve Just Been Separated From…
 The New York Times Trump Retreats on Separating Families, but Thousands May Remain Apart
 Spinter News – Here's Stephen Miller's Cell Phone Number, If You Need It
 Splinter News – Twitter Is Punishing Users Who Tweeted Our Stephen Miller Story
 New York Times – Hundreds Arrested During Women’s Immigration Protest in Washington