In May 2018, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new, expanded “zero-tolerance policy” for migrant families seeking to cross the border. This policy indicated that all migrants seeking to cross the border without documentation would be referred to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for prosecution of a crime, rendering their children unaccompanied minors. Children accompanying adults would be separated from their parents to be held at juvenile shelters with the adults at adult detention facilities.
Prior to that and in recent months, the news has been filled with stories of children being ripped from their parents at the border and placed in detention centers and shelters, including at least 2,500 children separated from their parents since the policy was announced. Images of children held in cages in warehouse converted detention facilities and the audio of children screaming for their parents have generated widespread outrage and heartbreak. Many of these families are seeking asylum from violence in Central America.
Because of the public outcry, President Trump signed an Executive Order which claimed to end family separations at the border. However, it did not guarantee that families wouldn’t be separated; it allowed for children and families to be detained indefinitely and it did not specify a plan to reunite the thousands of children who have already been separated from their parents. In late June, a federal judge in California ordered an end to family separations at the border and the reunification of all families that had been separated. However, as of the July 26 reunification deadline, hundreds of families remained separated, with the government claiming almost 800 parents not “eligible” for reunification, including hundreds of parents having been already deported without their children. The litigation remains ongoing.
This lesson provides an opportunity for students to understand what is happening with family separations and detentions at the border, reflect on quotes about the current situation, learn more about asylum and consider their own opinions through the writing of a persuasive letter.