This Fight Isn’t Over: Immigrant Families Torn Apart by Trump’s Policy May Never Be Reunited

President Trump today was forced to reverse his administration’s so-called zero-tolerance immigration policy at the U.S./Mexico border after massive outrage across the country and across the aisle left Republicans more fearful than ever of losing their majorities in Congress.

The Trump administration has repeatedly attempted to pin the blame for its own border crisis on its political opponents, calling on Congress to reverse a policy that Trump could have reversed with a simple phone call. Feminists weren’t fooled then, and they cannot relent now. All told, thousands of children are now being housed like prisoners and held by federal agents—and some will never see their parents again.

Activists at a rally for immigrant youth. (Karla Cote / Creative Commons)

“We must keep up the outrage,” Katherine Spillar, Executive Director of Feminist Majority, told Ms. “We must keep fighting for these children and families.” FM launched an action earlier this week demanding that members of Congress reject two Republican-sponsored compromise bills that leveraged the lives of migrant families in order to secure funding for a multi-billion dollar border wall, urging them instead to support legislation like Dianne Feinstein’s Keep Families Together Act that would prohibit these practices from ever being instituted along the border again.

“I never thought I would see the day when children are literally used as pawns for a pointless, wasteful, racist wall,” Eleanor Smeal, FM President, said at a press conference today in Washington, D.C. in support of the Keep Families Together Act. “It’s a disgrace and it must end today.” Last week, Smeal risked arrest at a similar rally demanding an end to family separation practices along the border.

Trump’s policy forcibly separated over 2,000 children, some as young as three months old, from their parents. In one case, federal agents seized a toddler from a mother while she was breastfeeding. Now in the custody of the state, they have been housed in overcrowded detention centers and tent cities, with as many as five children living in oversized cages and spending nearly 24 hours a day indoors. The conditions facing these children were denounced by children’s advocates, feminists and human rights activists and even the UN Commission on Human Rights.

White House officials and allies were quick to praise Trump for reversing his own atrocious policy—but according to the New York Times, the Trump administration will not be attempting to reunite children and parents separated at the border under it. Rewire immigration reporter Tina Vasquez announced on Twitter that the ACLU, which is suing over the Trump administration’s policy, “is primarily suing not just over the act of family separation, but because there is no process in place for family reunification.” According to her, ACLU attorneys declared that “they are not trying to get the kid[s] back.”

The Executive Order signed by Trump today didn’t address the futures of these children and families—it only applies to families who cross the border from this point forward, and what it means for even them is still unclear. It appears that families will now be detained together by immigration officials when crossing the border, which would close some gaps in communication that fueled the crisis that has unfolded there in the last weeks. Under Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, adults and children were detained and processed by agents separately—which is why there is now little to no cross-communication between agencies that can assist them in finding one another.

“In the shelters, [lawyers] can’t even find the parents because the kids are just crying inconsolably,” Anne Chandler, the Executive Director of Tahiri Justice Center’s Houston office, told Texas Monthly staff writer Katy Vine. “They often don’t know the full legal name of their parents or their date of birth. They’re not in a position to share a trauma story like what caused the migration. And that’s where these attorneys are frustrated—they can’t be attorneys. How do they talk and try to console and communicate with a five-year-old who is just focused on ‘I want my mom or dad,’ right? To me, you know, if you’re going to justify this in some way under the law, the idea that these parents don’t have the ability to obtain very simple answers—what are my rights and when can I be reunited with my kid before I’m deported without them?—is horrible.”

The fight for justice along the border has only begun. As feminists march on, we must continue fighting for the thousands of families torn apart by the Trump administration—and the children still waiting expectantly for their mothers and fathers to take them home.


Carmen Rios is a self-proclaimed feminist superstar and the former digital editor at Ms. Her writing on queerness, gender, race and class has been published in print and online by outlets including BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, DAME, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic, the National Women’s History Museum, SIGNS and the Women’s Media Center; and she is a co-founder of Webby-nominated Argot Magazine. @carmenriosss|