Border Patrol chief: Number of migrant family separations could double

Border Patrol chief: Number of migrant family separations could double
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The number of migrant families being separated upon crossing into the U.S. along the Southern border could double, according to a Border Patrol chief for the Rio Grande Valley. 

Manuel Padilla Jr., the chief in charge of enforcing the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy along the border's most-traveled segment, told The Washington Post on Saturday that the number will continue to increase as Border Patrol works to ramp up its prosecutions of those who cross into the U.S. illegally.

The Trump administration began implementing its zero-tolerance policy last month, stating that the its goal was to deter future immigrants from attempting to make the journey across Mexico into the U.S. The policy seeks to prosecute those crossing into the U.S. illegally, often leading children to be separated from their parents while they await prosecutorial action.

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Since April 6 — when the policy was announced — agents have separated 568 parents in the region, Padilla said. Some of the children apprehended are as young as 5 years old, The Post reported.

That number, however, only reflects half of the parents eligible for prosecution.

“We are trying to build to 100 percent prosecution of everybody that is eligible,” Padilla told the Post. “We are not there yet, but that is our intent.”

Nationwide, the Department of Homeland Security recorded nearly 2,000 minors being separated from their parents from April 19 to May 31.

Padilla said Border Patrol agents find separating families painful, though, he noted, agents have the best interests of children at heart.

“We’ve got agents who are rescuing children right at the river, sometimes in the river,” he told The Post. “We’ve got children who show up in extremely bad shape. We’ve got children of a tender age who’ve been assaulted by their smugglers.”

Immigration activists, however, have said the policy ignores the reasons why families are fleeing Central America, particularly gang violence.

“It doesn’t matter how cruel we become,” said Wendy Young, president of Kids In Need of Defense, a nonprofit group that provides immigrant children with legal support.

Parents “are going to take that risk,” Young said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and medical experts have spoken out against the Trump policy, warning that it will cause “irreplaceable harm” to the children separated from their families.

Trump has sought to blame Democrats for the policy, telling "Fox & Friends" on Friday that "the Democrats have to change their law."

Senate Democrats introduced legislation last week that would ban separating families at the border.