Border agents telling migrant parents they're taking their kids to get baths illustrates how Trump's 'zero tolerance' policy is being carried out on the ground

John Moore/Getty ImagesCentral American asylum seekers, including a Honduran girl, 2, and her mother, are taken into custody near the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • Agents at the US-Mexico border have reportedly separated children from their parents by telling them they must be bathed, only for them to never be reunited.
  • A Houston nonprofit director told Texas Monthly that threats and lies are among the variety of tactics agents are using to enforce President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy that separates families at the border.
  • After families are separated, she said, parents aren’t given any information as to where their children are being held, and in some cases are deported without them.

One of the tactics agents at the US-Mexico border reportedly use to separate children from their parents is to tell them they’re taking the kids to get a bath. But then they keep them detained away from their families.

In an interview with Texas Monthly, Houston-based executive director of an immigration nonprofit Anne Chandler said border agents use a variety of tactics to separate parents from their children, including demands, threats, and lies.

“The officers say, ‘I’m going to take your child to get bathed’ – that’s one we see again and again,” Chandler said. After the parent asks about their child, agents have said “This is a long bath”, or “you won’t be seeing your child again”, she added.

Chandler runs the Tahirih Justice Center‘s Houston office, which specialises in cases of immigrant women and girls. She said they have helped hundreds of children navigate the legal process after the Office of Refugee Resettlement releases them from custody.

Almost 2,000 children have been separated from their families at the border over six weeks under the “zero tolerance” policy, according to government data obtained by the Associated Press.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the policy in May as a deterrence measure, saying at the time, “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”

Chandler said “there is no one process” to carry out the policy, leaving agents to coerce migrant parents by whatever means possible to take their children away.

She said agents either ignored or denied one mother’s request for more time to say goodbye to her child, even after the child started vomiting and crying hysterically. She said agents have also threatened parents with additional charges if they did not let their child go.

Chandler said her office was working with nine parents who had been given no information as to where there child was after they were taken in May.

“None of them had direct information from immigration on where their child was located,” she said. “The one number they were given by some government official from the Department of Homeland Security was a 1-800 number. But from the phones inside the detention center, they can’t make those calls.”

In some cases, Chandler said, parents have even been deported back to their home countries without their children.

Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the immigrant advocacy program at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia, said that practice will cause even more problems.

“Look six months out from now,” he said in an interview with the AP over the weekend. “Are these mums going to stay in Guatemala? Hell no, they’re going to come back looking for their kids.”

Chandler said the hard-line policy completely disregards the spectrum of migrant statuses that are established by law.

“The idea of zero tolerance under the stated policy is that we don’t care why you’re afraid,” Chandler said. “[The policy is saying] we don’t care if it’s religion, political, gangs, anything. For all asylum seekers, you are going to be put in jail, in a detention center, and you’re going to have your children taken away from you. That’s the policy.”

Read her full interview with Texas Monthly here ยป

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