Trump was responding to a comment from a sheriff who referenced an MS-13 member, so in context, it did seem like he was talking about members of the gang. The president took advantage of the controversy by bashing the media.
By engaging in a game of semantics with journalists, Trump was able to deflect discussion from what his policies are actually doing: treating undocumented immigrants like animals.
Over a span of six weeks, the Trump administration has separated nearly 2,000 immigrant children from their parents or guardians at the border. The actions are part of its “zero-tolerance” policy toward illegal border crossings. Families without authorization to be in the U.S. are then jailed, rather than kept with their children and put into immigration proceedings.
Children are turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and treated as if they came to the country alone. There’s no rigorous system in place for keeping parents in touch with their children or making sure they’re reunited in the end.
Facing intense criticism over the policy, the Trump administration has tried out a number of excuses, using the Bible as justification and falsely claiming that the family separations are Democrats’ fault.
Trump’s policy may have lasting repercussions for children. The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics called it “a form of child abuse.” Children are being taken from their parents without any consideration for the effect on the families.
Pro Publica obtained a recording from inside a Customs and Border Patrol facility. Children can be heard sobbing and crying out for their mothers and fathers. At one point, an agent jokes about the noise: “We have an orchestra here.”
Here are more details of how the children are being treated:
Kids are being kept in cages.
“Inside an old warehouse in South Texas, hundreds of children wait in a series of cages created by metal fencing,” The Associated Press reported. “One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about are bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets.”
Parents don’t know when they’ll see their children again.
Officials are sometimes taking children from their parents without providing clear answers about when they’ll next see them. At times, parents don’t even realize their children are being taken away.
Anne Chandler, the director of the Tahirih Justice Center in Houston, helps immigrant women and children. She said that when parents ask when they’ll get their kids back, officials sometimes say, “We can’t tell you that” or just say their children are going away “because you’re not welcome in this country.”
“In other cases, we see no communication that the parent knows that their child is to be taken away,” she told the Texas Tribune. “Instead, the officers say, ‘I’m going to take your child to get bathed.’ That’s one we see again and again. ‘Your child needs to come with me for a bath.’ The child goes off, and in a half an hour, twenty minutes, the parent inquires, ‘Where is my five-year-old?’ ‘Where’s my seven-year-old?’ ‘This is a long bath.’ And they say, ‘You won’t be seeing your child again.’”
“Sometimes mothers — I was talking to one mother, and she said, ‘Don’t take my child away,’ and the child started screaming and vomiting and crying hysterically, and she asked the officers, ‘Can I at least have five minutes to console her?’ They said no.”
Chandler also said there are parents being deported without information on how to get their children back.
Kids aren’t getting comfort.
Dr. Colleen Kraft, the head of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said she visited a detention center in Texas recently where she came across a distraught toddler. Although center staff members tried to give the child toys and books to cheer her up, they reportedly weren’t “allowed to pick her up, to hold her or hug her to try to calm her,” according to the AP. Kraft said staff were generally instructed not to touch the children.
Children are having to take care of each other.
A 16-year-old girl in one detention center was taking care of a toddler who was also being held in the facility. The teen “had to teach other kids in the cell to change her diaper,” according to Michelle Brane, director of migrant rights at the Women’s Refugee Commission, who met the girl.
A mother says her child was taken from her while breastfeeding.
An undocumented immigrant from Honduras said federal authorities took her daughter away from her as she breastfed the child in a detention facility while awaiting prosecution for entering the United States illegally. When the mother resisted, they handcuffed her, she said.
The Department of Homeland Security has denied this story, which was first reported by CNN, saying, “We do not separate breastfeeding children from their parents. That does not exist. That is not a policy.” The Texas Civil Rights Project, which represents the woman, said it stands behind the story.