Family Separation Policy ‘Was Sadistic,’ Immigration Advocacy Groups Says


Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

By Araceli Cruz

October 7, 2020

A new report shows US Justice Department officials didn’t care about the consequences of separating families at the border. 

Jeff Sessions and Rod J. Rosenstein had no mercy when separating undocumented migrant families entering the US at the border, a new report shows. 

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In 2018, Sessions, the former US Attorney General, said that the only way undocumented families would stop attempting to seek asylum at the US-Mexico border would be to separate the children from their parents. Rosenstein, the former deputy attorney general at the time, agreed with Sessions and pushed harder on the new separation policy, according to a report by Michael E. Horowitz, the department’s inspector general, which was published by The New York Times

Immigration advocacy groups say this new report proves what they have always known: the US Justice Department intended to cause as much pain as they could. 

 “Cruelty was always the point,” said Paola Luisi, director of Families Belong Together, in a statement. Families Belong Together is a campaign of the National Domestic Workers Alliance formed in response to the 2018 family separation crisis.

“To score political points, the Trump administration ripped breastfeeding babies from the arms of their mothers, traumatized thousands of children, intentionally separated families, and allowed preventable deaths of children in custody—all while government lawyers argued they weren’t worthy of soap or toothbrushes.”

On May 7, 2018, Session held a press conference in San Diego, California, just a couple of miles from the border. He presented his “zero tolerance” policy that called for the prosecution of all undocumented immigrants. 

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What followed was the separation of thousands of families by immigration officials. The actual figure of how many families were separated remains unclear because US officials didn’t keep track. However, last year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that more than 5,400 children were separated from their families at the border. 

Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit, reports that family separation at the border continues to this day, despite the claims that President Donald Trump ended the policy just a couple of months after Sessions introduced it. 

According to the new report in The New York Times, five US attorneys—three of which were appointed by Trump—pushed back on Sessions’ unrelenting policy, saying they were “deeply concerned” about the children’s well-being. However, Sessions and Rosenstein did not let up. 

“We need to take away children,” Sessions reportedly said to prosecutors back then. Later that week, Rosenstein pressed further, reportedly saying that it didn’t matter how young the children were.

Luisi’s organization, which has helped to reunite families, said this latest report shows the lack of empathy on the part of the Trump administration and that their main objective was to hurt migrant families.  

“The Trump administration’s immigration agenda spits in the face of compassion, empathy, and the beacon of hope that remains the core of our country’s identity,” Luisi said. “These revelations are yet another reminder: family separation was a sadistic, official policy that was sanctioned from the higher echelons of our government with the explicit goal of making children suffer.”


  • Araceli Cruz

    Araceli is Copper Courier's social media manager. Her past work has been published in The Guardian, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, Mic, The Cut, Zora, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, and others.



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