The fact of what was happening dawned before the scope of it did: In the summer of 2017, immigration lawyers and judges began reporting that parents were arriving at immigrant detention centers without their children, who had been placed in custody elsewhere, sometimes thousands of miles away. Not until April of last year, when a New York Times investigation found that some 700 children—many under the age of 4—had been separated from their parents after crossing the southern border illegally with them in the preceding six months, did the extent of the program become clear.
Though Donald Trump’s administration has intermittently denied that family separation was ever its policy, the litany of horrors associated with the policy lengthens. Toddlers screaming as they’re wrested from their parents’ arms. Children sleeping on the bare floor of cages. Parents getting deported to their home countries while their children remain in custody here. Children falling ill in custody. Border Patrol losing track of where certain children have gone. (When a federal judge ordered that children be reunited with their families immediately, it quickly became evident that border agencies had little idea how to do so.)