The US government has separated at least 2,000 children from parents at the border since implementing a policy that results in such family separations, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed Friday.
From April 19 through May 31 of this year, 1,995 minors traveling with 1,940 adults who said they were the children's guardians were separated due to the policy, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters on a conference call.
The call was largely to defend the administration's decision to charge every adult caught crossing the border illegally with federal crimes, as opposed to referring those with children mainly to immigration courts, as previous administrations did. The officials used the opportunity, otherwise on the condition of anonymity, to accuse the press of spreading falsehoods about the policy.
Because the government is charging the parents in the criminal justice system, children are separated from them, with no clear procedure for their reunification aside from hotlines the parents can call to try to track their children down.
The policy to refer all adults for charges was publicly announced May 7, though the Justice Department announced it would prosecute 100% of the cases referred to it at the beginning of April.
On the call, Department of Homeland Security also said that prosecutions have more than doubled, but acknowledges they are not currently at 100%. Asked why they are prioritizing families in this effort as opposed to single adults, as they get closer to 100%, officials declined to explain how they choose whom to refer.
"We make decisions based on the ability to detain and the ability of courts to take these cases, but we no longer exempt categories or classes of individuals," a Department of Homeland Security official said.
"By and large, we are accepting nearly all of the referrals that we get from our counterparts at DHS, we continue to work with the federal judiciary on practical solutions to differing caps that they have," said a Justice Department official. "In terms of declining prosecution, we're not going to get into specifics."