US has 'lost track' of 1500 immigrant children

Family units who illegally crossed the Mexico-US border turn themselves in to border patrol agents near McAllen, Texas, US.
Family units who illegally crossed the Mexico-US border turn themselves in to border patrol agents near McAllen, Texas, US. Photo credit: Reuters

Immigrants arriving at the US border seeking asylum are having their children ripped away from them by border patrol officials.

Children as young as 18 months have been taken from their parents' arms and placed into government-run shelters, MSNBC reports.

US President Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday (local time): "Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents once they cross the Border into the U.S. Catch and Release, Lottery and Chain must also go with it and we MUST continue building the WALL! DEMOCRATS ARE PROTECTING MS-13 THUGS."

However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) replied that no law actually requires this.

"Separating parents and children is your administration's choice. Hundreds of kids as young as 18 months are in danger of suffering lifelong trauma. We won't let you shift the blame or use families as bargaining chips for your wall. #EndFamilySeparation"

White House chief of staff John Kelly has defended the practice, saying the policy would act as a "strong deterrent" for families trying to come to the US.

He told NPR the children would be "taken care of, put into foster care or whatever".

In April, a top official from the Department of Health and Human Services told Congress the agency had lost track of nearly 1500 unaccompanied minors it had placed in the United States.

ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project deputy director Lee Gelernt said separating parents from their children is unprecedented.

"This is the worst thing I've seen in five years-plus years of doing this civil rights work. I'm talking to these mothers and they're describing their child screaming 'mummy, mummy, don't let them take me away', and these children are five or six years old."

The Florence Project legal director Laura St John said since January, Arizona has seen more than 200 cases of parents being separated from their children.

"Just last week we saw a 53-week-old infant in court without a parent," she told MSNBC.

"What happens is at the border, parents are taken into separate custody and children are taken an rendered 'unaccompanied minors' and brought into shelters that are run by the government and the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

"Children and parents who are separated sometimes don't have any way to communicate with each other for days, weeks. I've seen months where a parent had no idea where their child was after the US government took that child away."

Mirian, a Honduran mother involved in the ACLU lawsuit against the government, was separated from her 18-month-old son and spent months no knowing if or how he was being taken care of.

"The immigration officers made me walk out with my son to a government vehicle and place my son in a car seat in the vehicle. My son was crying as I put him in the seat," she said in a statement.

"I did not even have a chance to try to comfort my son, because the officers slammed the door shut as soon as he was in his seat. I was crying, too. I cry even now when I think about that moment when the border officers took my son away."

This comes as the Trump administration seeks to criminally prosecute everyone who illegally crosses the US-Mexico border.