Why Was Family Separation Law Passed? 

If you’re reading this, you are probably wondering: “Why was the family separation law passed?” Hopefully, this will answer your question. It’s time for collective accountability with the systems that enabled this policy to take place. In the meantime, it’s time to act to reunite families, provide permanent protection in the United States, provide mental health care for displaced migrants, provide adequate restitution, and make necessary changes to the system to prevent future abuse.

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Border Patrol 

The recent child migrant “crisis” at the US-Mexico border is an example of how the government is overloaded. Children were left alone for days by Border Patrol agents, and a report by the American Civil Liberties Union found hundreds of claims of abuse against Border Patrol agents. But the underlying cause of the “crisis” is not clear. The administration isn’t saying why it has separated children from their parents. 

It’s a question of prosecutorial discretion. The Trump administration has been prosecuting migrants, and sometimes entire families, for illegally crossing the border. Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security, said recently to a Senate committee that people who aren’t criminal aliens should be allowed to go to the port of entry. That sounds like common sense. But the Trump administration wants to avoid awkward questions about immigration. 

After 9/11, the Border Patrol assumed a national security mission. The leaders of the Border Patrol began to characterize migrants as “hardened criminals.” The Border Patrol Academy began to resemble a paramilitary boot camp. 


As the Republican Party continues to push for border security legislation, it’s unclear when the Democrats will pass a bill to ban family separation. While a Republican bill would ban the separation of parents from their children, it wouldn’t stop the government from prosecuting asylum seekers. The law states that parents who enter between ports of entry are considered illegal aliens and are immediately placed into criminal detention, away from their children. However, a Democratic bill would prohibit the government from separating families that enter legally. 

Democratic senators have been calling for legislation to end family separation in the Senate, but Republicans are trying to rally support for a compromise bill. Several Republicans have backed the compromise bill, but Democrats are putting pressure on Republicans to pass a bill to stop it. While Republican leaders have said that they plan to try to work with Democrats, they’ve yet to commit to putting it to a vote. The Republican leaders have been wary of giving vulnerable Democratic senators a chance to vote on it, and they’re also worried that it will split their party’s bloc. 

Bush administration 

The Bush administration was not the first to pass a family separation law. In the early months of the Trump administration, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, John Bash, asked colleagues whether they had seen a spike in prosecution referrals for parents traveling to the U.S. with their children. He also asked the attorneys if they had received any guidance about the changes in the law. 

Kevin McAleenan, the deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, had been under intense pressure from White House hawks to prosecute the parents of asylum seekers. The 24-hour news coverage of the caravans had incited panic within the administration. McAleenan was trying to push for an immigration law that would force families to separate children from their parents. He even sent an email to Tom Homan and Francis Cissna, the head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, with the intent of recommending the law to Nielsen. 

Despite the new family separation law, the administration failed to implement a unified process for holding families together. The law did not provide a uniform method to identify children, inform parents about their whereabouts, and reunite separated families. Some parents were separated from their children for months or years before they were finally reunited. Moreover, there were instances where parents were deported without their children.