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The families being torn apart by US immigration policy

It is not just at the border that children are being separated from their parents – adults who have a whole life in America are also being deported

Jesús Ortiz looks at a photo of his family after being deported to Mexico.
Jesús Ortiz looks at a photo of his family after being deported to Mexico. El País

The warning, shared from cell phone to cell phone by migrants along the border, is an audio recording of a Salvadorian child crying.

The cries were heard at an old Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, when kids and babies were separated from their parents, who were accused of trying to enter into the United States illegally. The minors were locked up in cages, and in some cases their parents were deported to Mexican cities such as Ciudad Juárez or El Paso, hundreds of kilometers from the border.

They divide families who have a whole life in the United States

Deportee Ana Laura López

The cries were also heard by the thousands of Mexicans who were deported in recent months in multiple raids in public squares and job centers.

They have returned to the country of their births, without being able to say goodbye, leaving behind their children in Chicago, Virginia and Detroit. “This has been happening for many months, and it is good that people are talking about the conditions in which children are locked up,” says Ana Laura López. “But this cruel policy of dividing families has been around since Obama.”

After living in the United States for 16 years, Ana Laura was deported 18 months ago after being unexpectedly detained at an airport in Chicago. That same day, the 41-year-old was forced to board a plane to Mexico City and leave behind her two teenage sons, Ángel and Dani. She hasn’t seen them since.

“It’s true that the profile has changed under Trump,” she explains. “Before it was migrants who tried to cross the border who were made to go back. It wasn’t so ingrained and it didn’t have such a big impact on their family. But now it has changed, they divide families who have a whole life in the United States.”

“What’s most painful and traumatic for a child is to be separated from their mother, and they don’t always get over it. What’s more, they are also violating the rights of our children, who are US citizens, and the rights of those who are denied the human right to see their parents,” explains Ana Laura, who remembers how, many years ago, the wall in Tijuana would open once a month and divided families were able to reunite for a few moments.

Since May, 2,300 children have been separated from their parents

Since Donald Trump implemented his “zero tolerance” policy in early May, 2,300 children have been separated from 1,940 parents. The numbers have escalated so much that according to Trump’s own administration, shelters are at 95% capacity. “If you don’t want this to happen to you, don’t bring your children with you,” warned US Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently. What has been interpreted as a tactic to push Democrats to approve the new migration law, has also become an equally important message to those considering crossing the border.

The audio of the sobbing children obtained by American nonprofit organization ProPublica has spread from shelter to shelter as a warning to the thousands of migrants who are waiting their turn to cross the border.

“A child does not understand anything about papers, permits or the zero-tolerance policy, they only want to hug their father,” says Jesús Ortiz Butanda, who was deported from the United States two months ago after living there for 16 years. “To separate them is to take away a universal human right: that is the right of a child to be with their parents.”

The 36-year-old was forced to leave his pregnant wife and two stepchildren behind. “Trump is using us to pressure Congress, and incidentally Mexico,” he explains.

To separate them is to take away a universal human right

Deportee Jesús Ortiz Butanda

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been heavily criticized for his lack of assertiveness with Trump. “We’ve had enough of our president lowering his head in submission. It is shameful to see how we are being stepped on without Mexico having a stronger conscience to defend us.”

“After seeing children in dog kennels, the Mexican government took far too long to react,” she adds.

Jesús simply wants Mexico to offer more opportunities. He hopes he can bring his family over to start a new life without having to live in hiding.

English version by Andres Cayuela.

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