Border Patrol processing migrants

U.S. Border Patrol officers process a migrant family after they crossed the Rio Grande into the U.S. from Mexico on May 5, 2022 in Roma, Texas.

(Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Coalition Implores Biden to Act as Abbott's 'Campaign of Cruelty' Separates Families

"We urge the Biden administration to immediately reunite separated families and launch an investigation into Texas' Operation Lone Star," said #WelcomeWithDignity's campaign manager.

The #WelcomeWithDignity campaign for asylum rights on Monday condemned what it called Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's "unconscionable" decision to "repeat one of the most horrific and cruel practices of the Trump administration" by separating migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Houston Chroniclereported last week that officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) have separated at least 26 families by arresting fathers on trespassing charges and transferring relatives including small children to U.S. Border Patrol custody.

DPS spokesman Travis Considine confirmed that "there have been instances in which DPS has arrested male migrants" traveling with their families, but that "children and mothers were never separated" as they were turned over to Border Patrol agents.

"With Texas troopers separating families at the border, the world can now see that Governor Abbott's cruelty knows no bounds."

"We were already shocked and appalled by the razor wire and buoy barriers, denial of water, and pushbacks of children into the river," #WelcomeWithDignity campaign manager Melina Roche said in a statement, referring to the floating border barrier installed in the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass and reports that Texas state troopers have been ordered to push migrant children back into the river and deny asylum-seekers water amid a deadly heatwave.

"With Texas troopers separating families at the border, the world can now see that Governor Abbott's cruelty knows no bounds," Roche added. "The governor will continue to punish families for seeking safety unless the federal government intervenes. We urge the Biden administration to immediately reunite separated families and launch an investigation into Texas' Operation Lone Star."

The #WelcomeWithDignity coalition said its members are "appalled" that the Biden administration "hasn't put a stop to Gov. Abbott's campaign of cruelty."

While Biden has ended some of the more egregious human rights violations perpetrated against migrants during former President Donald Trump's tenure, his administration has come under fire for continuing and expanding Trump-era policies like Title 42—a public health order that both presidents invoked to deport around two million asylum-seekers under the pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic—and new asylum restrictions to replace Title 42 after its expiration in May. Last month, a federal court blocked Biden's new policy.

Kristin Etter, an attorney and special project director at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, called Abbott's policy "nothing short of state-sanctioned family separation."

Danilo Zack, acting director of policy and advocacy at Church World Service, said that "child-parent separation has profound and devastating consequences, and these actions recall the appalling scenes of the Trump-era zero-tolerance policy."

Zack was referring to Trump's internationally condemned crackdown on undocumented migrants including people legally seeking asylum, during which around 4,000 children were seized from their families and sent to locations around the country. With recordkeeping of the minors' identities and locations "patchwork at best," according to the Department of Homeland Security, nearly 1 in 4 of the separated children were yet to be reunited with their relatives as of earlier this year.

As public outrage mounted in the face of stories like a breastfeeding baby being torn away from her mother and a father driven to suicide after being separated from his wife and child, the Trump administration reluctantly rolled back the policy in June 2018.

Experts said family separation deeply traumatized parents and children, who were often told by U.S. officials that they would never see each other again. Some may indeed never be reunited. Numerous children were given to U.S. families, who sometimes petition for permanent custody.

"During the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy, I witnessed how family separation inflicts lasting trauma on the parents and children who were cruelly torn apart," Katharina Obser, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women's Refugee Commission, said in a statement Monday.

"It is unconscionable that this horrific practice is added onto a long list of cruel practices already taking place under Gov. Abbott's Operation Lone Star—including using razor wire and large buoys to block the Rio Grande shore," Obser added. "When people are fleeing to save their lives, attempts at deterrence only place vulnerable people in more danger and anguish, rather than stop their need to seek safety."

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