How the Trump White House misled the world about its family separation policy : NPR


That is FRESH AIR. I am Terry Gross. “The Secret Historical past Of The U.S. Authorities’s Household-Separation Coverage” is the quilt story of the brand new situation of The Atlantic journal. This investigative article was written by my visitor, Caitlin Dickerson. The separation coverage, referred to as zero tolerance, was created throughout the Trump administration, mandating that folks throughout the southern border illegally with youngsters be separated from their youngsters till authorized proceedings concluded and oldsters had been both granted asylum or deported, which might take a really very long time. Through the Trump administration, over 5,000 youngsters had been separated from their dad and mom with no data that might allow dad and mom and kids to be reunited. For a yr and a half, Trump administration officers denied that household separation even existed. Then they mentioned separation wasn’t the aim. It was simply an unlucky results of prosecuting dad and mom who crossed the border illegally.

However Dickerson discovered that separating youngsters wasn’t a facet impact. She says it was the intent. She writes that as an alternative of working to reunify households after dad and mom had been prosecuted, officers labored to maintain them aside for longer. Her article, titled “We Want To Take Away Kids,” relies on the year-and-a-half investigation she performed, which included greater than 150 interviews and reviewing hundreds of pages of inside authorities paperwork, a few of which had been turned over to her after a multiyear lawsuit. Through the Trump administration, she reported on the story because it unfolded for The New York Instances, the place she coated immigration. She’s now a workers author for The Atlantic.

Caitlin Dickerson, welcome again to FRESH AIR. Congratulations on this outstanding investigation that you’ve got performed. Why did you need to proceed investigating the story after Biden grew to become president and after the Trump administration coverage ended?

CAITLIN DICKERSON: Thanks a lot, Terry. I needed to maintain going with this story of household separations as a result of even on the conclusion of zero tolerance in the summertime of 2018, there was simply a lot that reporters and that the general public nonetheless did not perceive. It was complicated. We knew that hundreds of households had been separated, however you had Trump administration officers, together with the highest immigration enforcement official, Kirstjen Nielsen, saying, you already know, we do not have a household separation coverage. It was actually in contrast to a narrative that I would ever coated earlier than in that, you already know, what the administration was saying did not appear to line up with the details. And the opposite motive I needed to stick with the story is that so many dad and mom and kids stay separated. A whole lot of them to this present day haven’t been reunited.

GROSS: When the coverage of separation was introduced within the spring of 2018, it had already been underway for months. Why hadn’t it been introduced? And why, when journalists such as you requested about it after it grew to become apparent what was taking place, why was it denied?

DICKERSON: I feel that the a whole lot of separations that occurred actually in secret in 2017 had been saved quiet due to the type of uncommon method during which they took place. So this concept to separate households, it was formally proposed proper at first of the Trump administration, however it was rejected. You may recall on the time John Kelly was the DHS secretary. He thought-about this concept after which mentioned publicly that he had declined to proceed. However you continue to had a person named Jeff Self – he was the top of the Border Patrol in El Paso – he took it upon himself to principally pursue this concept anyway. It is one which had been floating round within the ether amongst border enforcement officers for a few years, and lots of of them believed, like Self, that it was a good suggestion, that it was going to considerably lower border crossings.

And so his workplace approached DOJ officers regionally of their area, and so they launched what was later described as a pilot program. On the time, it was only a native effort to attenuate border crossings and start separating households as a method to try this. So when the pilot was found at DHS headquarters, it appeared to straight contradict John Kelly’s orders. And so it appears – that appears to be the explanation why when reporters requested what was happening, we did not get a straight reply. And actually, we had been advised, you already know, these separations weren’t taking place in any respect.

GROSS: This system in El Paso grew to become a mannequin for the nationwide coverage instituted throughout the Trump administration. And though there was household separation in that nationwide coverage and the administration denied that, you bought entry to a doc that got here out of this principally pilot program in El Paso, Texas. What did you be taught from that report from the El Paso mission that actually contradicted all the pieces that the administration was saying?

DICKERSON: I feel there have been two large takeaways from the report that got here out of the El Paso pilot program for me that contradicted what we had been listening to from Trump administration officers and what I continued to listen to in my reporting. The primary was this argument you referenced earlier, that separations weren’t the aim of zero tolerance. You recognize, merely, prosecution was the aim. That is an argument that developed over time, that you just began to listen to increasingly as time went on and as outrage from Democrats and Republicans grew over household separations. However it wasn’t being made within the earliest days of the pilot program or within the earliest days of discussing immigration enforcement within the Trump administration. And that is very clear on this report, which makes use of iterations of the phrase household separation greater than 10 instances. And it talks concerning the initiative very clearly as a household separation program, one which the Border Patrol regionally bought approval for. You recognize, it talks about how previously, principally, the company wasn’t allowed to separate households, however they felt that they’d been empowered to take action, referencing numerous paperwork they felt gave them that permission. And they also went forward with it.

And the opposite large contradiction I took away from that file is that, you already know, in my reporting, after I would ask the officers who had been chargeable for and who signed off on zero tolerance, how is it that you just misplaced monitor of oldsters and children, how might issues have gone so improper, they mentioned, nicely, we by no means might have anticipated all of the disorganization that might comply with the actual fact, that we would not be capable of hold monitor of kinfolk. And that is not true. The doc states very clearly that there wasn’t an ample system in place for protecting monitor of oldsters and kids. And actually, it concludes with a single suggestion, which is {that a} course of for doing so be developed.

GROSS: So there was chaos in El Paso after the coverage was instituted. That a part of the lesson was not discovered by the Trump administration when this coverage went nationwide.

DICKERSON: That is proper. And that doc is only one instance of many data I discovered that present individuals inside the authorities, inside numerous federal companies, elevating crimson flags across the concept of a nationwide household separation coverage and saying, you already know, we’ll lose monitor of oldsters and children. You are going to have very younger youngsters and, in some circumstances, even infants separated. One report that I reviewed warned that, you already know – future populations of U.S. orphans was the quote that it used. So these warnings had been raised in many various locations and to many various high-level officers, and so they simply weren’t heeded.

GROSS: The purpose of separating households was deterrence. Like, we’ll make issues so unhealthy that no household will cross the border as a result of it will be hell for them. We’ll make it that method for them. John Kelly, earlier than he was within the Trump administration, was stationed on the border. And when Jeh Johnson was head of the Division of Homeland Safety within the Obama administration, Kelly gave Jeh Johnson the recommendation, like, do not hassle with deterrence. It isn’t going to work. There are such a lot of issues which can be – there’s a lot violence and gangs which can be driving individuals throughout the border. Nothing you are going to do goes to scare them. They’ll come throughout. So is that one of many explanation why Kelly was decided to reject the household separation coverage – as a result of they thought deterrence is pointless?

DICKERSON: That is proper. So John Kelly was our highest-ranking army official overseeing the Northern Triangle, the place most migrants had been touring from to the US, previous to becoming a member of the Trump administration. And he did really feel that deterrence wasn’t going to be efficient as a result of he’d turn out to be, at that time, you already know, intimately conversant in the prevalence of gang violence and, actually, the shortage of alternative, the shortage of jobs, you already know, the quantity of people that simply did not have sufficient to eat daily. In addition to he talks about remittances that had been despatched from the US again to Central America. All of those forces, he felt, had been so robust that, you already know, prosecuting individuals wasn’t going to discourage them.

And, you already know, there is a second motive that he factors to for opposing household separations or separations by means of prosecutions when he joined the Trump administration. He does say he felt instantly that it was inhumane, that, you already know, it was unnecessarily merciless, and he did not imagine in it for that motive. It isn’t the strategy that he took in opposing it. He talked concerning the coverage’s logistical failings when he pushed again towards separating households below the Trump administration. And he says that he did that as a result of he felt it could have been simpler than making an ethical argument when it got here to talking to individuals like Donald Trump or Stephen Miller, Trump’s chief immigration adviser.

GROSS: Your article is titled “We Want To Take Away Kids.” That line comes from one thing that then-Legal professional Basic Jeff Periods mentioned in a telephone name to assistant DAs who had been prosecuting individuals who had crossed illegally. Give us the context for that sentence within the Jeff Periods telephone name.

DICKERSON: So Jeff Periods bought lots of blame throughout zero tolerance and even after. Once more, after I’m interviewing officers who had been at very excessive ranges in DHS, for instance, lots of them principally made this argument that Periods made me do it. And it is type of no shock that a lot focus was placed on Periods. He’d made a profession within the Senate as being somebody very hawkish on immigration who believed in harsh enforcement. And I discovered in my reporting that to be true. However when it got here to the specifics and the main points of zero tolerance and the authorized authorities needed to place it into place, these really do not hint again to Periods.

He was somebody who was embattled within the administration. You recognize, Donald Trump by no means forgave Periods for recusing himself from the inquiry into whether or not there had been collusion between the 2016 Trump marketing campaign and Russian operatives. And so Periods was at all times attempting to win again the president’s help. And so he would usually make these pronouncements of, you already know, we have to crack down on the border. We have to be harsh. Periods believed in it, however he additionally actually needed to win Trump’s affection. And so this telephone name appears to be an instance of that.

You recognize, there are a number of cases I doc the place Periods is addressing U.S. attorneys who’re saying, hey; we do not have the assets to do zero tolerance – you already know, identical factor that John Kelly and others argued. We do not assume this can be a good concept. We do not assume it will work, and it’ll fully overrun our departments. And Periods would simply usually say again, we have to do it. We have to dig in. We have to be harsh. And on this case, he made this touch upon a telephone name with every of the U.S. attorneys who’re stationed on the southwestern border and mentioned to them very clearly, we have to take away youngsters. He felt that is what was needed in an effort to discourage migration.

GROSS: How did you find out about that telephone name?

DICKERSON: That telephone name was really documented by the Division of Justice’s inspector basic initially. And the quote comes from contemporaneous notes taken by a number of of the U.S. attorneys who had been on the telephone name with Periods. The decision itself was later recounted to me by a number of of those that had been current who mentioned to me, you already know, we had been attempting to lift these particular issues and particular crimson flags earlier than the legal professional basic. He did not appear to be listening to us. He simply saved saying, normally, it’s worthwhile to be harsh. We have to double down. We have to take away youngsters.

GROSS: So, you already know, you write that household separation wasn’t a facet impact of prosecuting dad and mom who crossed the border illegally. It was the intent. And, in actual fact, some administration officers labored to maintain households separated longer. Would you clarify?

DICKERSON: Sure. So but extra proof displaying that the aim for individuals who had been pushing for zero tolerance most harshly was not simply merely prosecuting dad and mom, but additionally separating them from their youngsters for vital durations of time, comes from emails that got here out of one of many federal lawsuits towards the federal government filed on behalf of separated households. Within the discovery course of related to that go well with, we have seen some very revealing emails. And it is really noteworthy that, you already know, I did not get these emails in my FOIL lawsuits, that the Home Judiciary Committee did not get these emails of their inquiries. You recognize, they particularly level out to me – and I write this within the story – that they felt like DHS was withholding paperwork. And so it is price noting that nobody else had seen these emails till this discovery course of started.

However they present, even earlier than zero tolerance being applied, one deputy at ICE – his identify’s Matt Albence – elevating a priority that he fearful if sure dad and mom had been prosecuted in a short time, that maybe they might be returned to the border patrol stations the place their youngsters had been nonetheless ready, and that the households is perhaps reunited. And so he began to recommend methods to forestall that from taking place. He mentioned, you already know, perhaps we are able to expedite the method by means of which we switch youngsters into HHS shelters, lots of which had been in different states – you already know, locations like Michigan and New York, removed from the border. Let’s ship these youngsters to the shelters extra rapidly to ensure they are not reunited.

He additionally proposed, after prosecution, sending dad and mom to totally different border patrol stations if needed or to ICE amenities if needed – something he might provide you with to maintain dad and mom from being returned to the amenities the place their youngsters had been ready. After which later, as soon as zero tolerance is in place, there is a sequence of emails that present Albence and different officers saying – you already know, elevating issues about the truth that these reunifications had been certainly taking place in some circumstances. One quote from Albence – he mentioned, “we will not have this.” He talked about contacting the top of the Customs and Border Safety Company for help and different high-level officers attempting to get anyone concerned that he might to attempt to cease these reunifications.

GROSS: Effectively, let me reintroduce you right here. In case you’re simply becoming a member of us, my visitor is Caitlin Dickerson. She wrote The Atlantic journal’s new cowl story, which is named “We Want To Take Away Kids: The Secret Historical past Of The U.S. Authorities’s Household-Separation Coverage.” We’ll be proper again after a brief break. That is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: That is FRESH AIR. Let’s get again to my interview with Caitlin Dickerson, who wrote The Atlantic journal’s new cowl story, “We Must Take Away Kids: The Secret Historical past Of The U.S. Authorities’s Household-Separation Coverage.” The coverage, referred to as zero tolerance, was created throughout the Trump administration, mandating that folks who crossed the southern border illegally with youngsters be separated from their youngsters till authorized proceedings concluded.

Let’s speak about Stephen Miller. And Stephen Miller is a extremely hard-line, anti-immigration extremist. He was a speechwriter and an aide to President Trump and headed up efforts to crack down on immigration. And I feel he actually needed to make crossing the border – you already know, insurance policies about crossing the border as draconian as doable. You say he employed individuals from the anti-immigrant fringes for his Washington workers. What are a few of the concepts – along with household separation, what are a few of the concepts that got here out of his workplace?

DICKERSON: Stephen Miller got here up with concepts that embrace Title 42, the ban imposed, really, by the surgeon basic in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Stephen Miller discovered that in federal statute and tried to suggest that we totally seal the border in response to a lot smaller and fewer severe public well being threats – for instance, outbreaks of scabies in immigration detention amenities. He proposed issues like, you already know, constructing a wall by means of non-public property and thru waterways, the place they might by no means be sustained, you already know, sending Nationwide Guard troops to the border to forestall individuals from coming into the US in any respect – concepts that individuals who had been profession immigration enforcement officers mentioned to me mirrored how little he actually understood concerning the mechanics of border enforcement, and the way little he was keen to acknowledge the authorized limitations that an administration faces in attempting to seal the border. He was laser targeted on this aim, which isn’t actually shocking.

Some of the shocking issues I did take away from studying extra about Stephen Miller and his function right here is that, you already know, he didn’t have a really senior function when it got here to the chain of command on this administration. He was an adviser to the president. And but, you had him ordering round cupboard secretaries, making calls for of people that had been operating complete companies. And so they had been falling in line. And I’d ask – you already know, so lots of them would lament, you already know, Miller’s simply fixed, you already know, calling them and visiting their places of work and ranting and actually not letting them get a phrase in edgewise. They had been so pissed off along with his calls for. And I’d say, you already know, did you push again? Why did you permit this to occur, you already know? Did you complain to the president’s chief of workers or somebody increased within the chain of command, figuring out that in a traditional administration, an adviser to the president would by no means be capable of get away with this type of habits? However Miller was so revered and nearly feared due to this narrative that developed round him that he was chargeable for getting Donald Trump elected president. It was his speeches about immigration that carried Trump into workplace. And so due to that, he was very protected. Folks had been afraid to push again towards him and let him actually run over them, although that they had extra authority than Miller did.

GROSS: Effectively, Basic John Kelly does not strike me as any person who’s fearful. How did he get round Kelly?

DICKERSON: So John Kelly was very pissed off with Stephen Miller from his earliest days within the Trump administration. And so Miller simply began going round him. He would name into DHS, you already know, high-ranking individuals, but additionally lower-level bureaucrats, anyone he might discover who was sympathetic to his views. He would begin proposing insurance policies. And he would principally attempt to persuade individuals to supply some type of an affirmative. Sure, I feel this can be a good concept. Or, sure, we’ll take it into consideration. After which Miller would take that again to the White Home and say, DHS is on board. DHS agrees with this. Let’s go forward.

You recognize, John Kelly would discover out about it and be incensed, not solely as a result of Miller had violated the chain of command, which Kelly, you already know, as a profession army officer, believes in very strongly, but additionally as a result of it meant that Miller was really utilizing, you already know, the approval or the type of passive OK of low-level DHS officers, who had no authority to help or, you already know, to show down an concept. He was utilizing their statements in an effort to return to the White Home and say, OK, we have buy-in. We’re able to go. Let’s push this ahead – actually violating so many constructions which can be designed to forestall, you already know, unhealthy insurance policies from being put into place, insurance policies that aren’t logistically possible, that aren’t moral, which can be, maybe, not even authorized.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you. After which we’ll discuss some extra. In case you’re simply becoming a member of us, my visitor is Caitlin Dickerson. And he or she wrote the actually in-depth cowl story in The Atlantic journal, which is named “We Want To Take Away Kids: The Secret Historical past Of The U.S. Authorities’s Household-Separation Coverage.” We’ll discuss extra after we take a brief break. I am Terry Gross. And that is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: That is FRESH AIR. I am Terry Gross. Let’s get again to my interview with Caitlin Dickerson, who wrote The Atlantic journal’s new cowl story “We Want To Take Away Kids: The Secret Historical past Of The U.S. Authorities’s Household-Separation Coverage.” This coverage, referred to as zero tolerance, was created throughout the Trump administration, mandating that folks who crossed the southern border illegally with their youngsters be separated from their youngsters till authorized proceedings concluded and oldsters had been both granted asylum or deported, a course of that might take a really very long time. Over 5,000 youngsters had been separated from their dad and mom throughout the Trump administration. There have been no data linking dad and mom with youngsters, so that they could not discover one another. A whole lot of kids haven’t but been reunited with their dad and mom.

Caitlin, when the household separation coverage was being applied, it appears like nobody who got here up with the coverage was considering forward about, how will the dad and mom and kids be reunited? And who shall be protecting monitor of that? And it appears like companies who needed to deal with the implications of this coverage weren’t very well-informed. They weren’t given a lot advance discover. Are you able to speak about a few of the issues that occurred earlier than implementation that made it apparent that this was going to be a catastrophe?

DICKERSON: So this administration stands out from every other I’ve checked out in depth in the way in which that members of the forms, subject material consultants who’re chargeable for the nuts and bolts of our authorities functioning, had been disregarded of actually vital conversations round coverage. And this is without doubt one of the starkest examples of that. You recognize, the choice to pursue zero tolerance and separate households on a big scale was actually restricted to a small quantity of people that had proven their fealty to the administration, had proven their timeless dedication to safe the border at any value, together with separating households. And anyone who raised crimson flags or confirmed concern about this concept was simply disregarded of the dialog. Slowly, over time, rooms that included many extra individuals the place this concept was proposed – they bought smaller and smaller. You recognize, the quantity of people that had been allowed to weigh in – it shrunk till you solely had individuals who favored zero tolerance and nobody who had any issues about it.

Regardless of that, issues had been raised amongst members of the forms as these early separations that occurred within the El Paso pilot program we mentioned got here out. And likewise simply because rumors concerning the concept to separate households – these had been all over the place, beginning within the early months of the Trump administration based mostly on leaks. There was at all times a worry at DHS and at HHS, the company that is chargeable for housing youngsters in federal custody. There have been at all times issues that separating households was going to come back up. And so individuals began to provide paperwork and experiences stating all of the methods during which this was not a good suggestion and would go improper based mostly on the methods that had been in place on the time.

One report got here out of the DHS Workplace of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. They not solely warned that folks and kids could also be misplaced to 1 one other, maybe completely, however in addition they proposed very particular methods and proposals that might have prevented this from taking place. You recognize, they prompt that the division provide you with a database, for instance, the place you may search. You recognize, if you already know who and the place a baby is, you may discover out who and the place their mother or father was – issues like this that do not appear to have been considered meaningfully based mostly on any file that I’ve seen. And, you already know, that might have prevented issues.

GROSS: I used to be going to say a database looks like the obvious factor to have if you’re separating dad and mom and kids.

DICKERSON: It does. And it is much more apparent if you bear in mind that DHS has a database for adults who’re detained in federal custody. It is one thing that I’ve utilized in my reporting since I began protecting immigration. When you have an individual’s final identify and their date of beginning and their nation of origin or in case you have one thing referred to as their alien quantity – you already know, a federal quantity that is assigned to every immigrant in federal custody – you will discover out the place an grownup is. And so why could not that system merely have been expanded to incorporate youngsters? One of many U.S. attorneys who prosecuted zero tolerance circumstances is quoted within the story saying, even when we did not have an internet database to maintain monitor of oldsters and kids, there have been many different alternatives to search out methods to reunite them. You recognize, he prompt maybe an Excel spreadsheet. You recognize, he says that 5,000 is a big quantity by way of human penalties however not with regards to knowledge administration. That is really reasonably easy. There are various, many ways in which dropping monitor of oldsters and kids might have been prevented, and none of them had been pursued.

GROSS: You discovered within the spring of 2018 that, though there was no official database that the federal government was protecting that might allow dad and mom and kids to search out one another – that one particular person within the Workplace of Refugee Resettlement, Jim De La Cruz, had been protecting an inventory of kids separated from dad and mom and was utilizing that to trace down youngsters to attempt to reunify them. However he was protecting the checklist quiet, figuring out it could be controversial. Inform us about that checklist and the way you came upon about it, the way it was leaked to you.

DICKERSON: So Jim De La Cruz was a part of a gaggle of federal officers who tried to come back collectively to cease household separations from taking place as quickly as they heard the concept was proposed in early 2017. After which when separations started anyway, he started to trace them. There was utility on this checklist. He used it to talk to officers at ICE and to convey info on a case-by-case foundation that might assist employees within HHS shelters monitor down the dad and mom of kids – you already know, inconsolable and confused youngsters they had been caring for in an effort to hopefully be capable of reunite them sooner or later. However De La Cruz knew that he was working in a really politicized setting. He knew – it was very clear at that time that although a whole lot of separations had taken place, he had proof of them. He was listening to the administration say formally in statements to reporters like me that these separations weren’t happening.

So he knew that having this checklist – it appears, based mostly on what sources have advised me – he knew that it was not one thing that the administration was going to look kindly on. And so he saved it quiet. And actually, when one official who had entry to the checklist offered it to me and I corroborated it with a number of others who additionally had direct entry to it, I wrote a narrative about it in The New York Instances. And De La Cruz’s boss was so upset, he requested that De La Cruz cease protecting the checklist. He mentioned it made it appear like DHS was doing one thing that it wasn’t when, in fact, the alternative is true. The checklist mirrored that separations had been in actual fact happening although the administration was arguing that they weren’t. However De La Cruz and his colleagues pushed again. And so they saved including to it as a result of they had been decided to do something that they might, you already know, if to not cease separations from taking place then to not less than attempt to get as many of those youngsters reunified as doable.

GROSS: So it sounds just like the extra essential aim to individuals concerned with this household separation program at the moment was to maintain it a secret, versus ensuring there have been safeguards to ensure dad and mom and kids might be reunited.

DICKERSON: That is proper. And, once more, this stood out from my expertise as a reporter. You recognize, normally, if you’re engaged on a narrative that authorities officers – you already know, whatever the administration or political get together – do not like, they’re going to both inform you, you already know, no remark or they’re going to attempt to change the topic or they’re going to supply context that not less than presents, you already know, their facet of the story, the place they’re coming from, even when they know the general public is not essentially going to love it. It was actually exterior the norm to be advised one thing that was taking place wasn’t taking place. That’s partly as a result of officers at DHS headquarters, not less than early on, did not learn about these separations that began to happen in locations like El Paso. However over time, officers did learn about this effort, did know that a whole lot of separations had taken place, and so they selected to not acknowledge it, you already know, in response to questions from reporters and in response to questions from Congress.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you right here. My visitor is Caitlin Dickerson, who wrote The Atlantic journal’s new cowl story, “We Want To Take Away Kids: The Secret Historical past Of The U.S. Authorities’s Household-Separation Coverage.” We’ll be proper again. That is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: That is FRESH AIR. Let’s get again to my interview with Caitlin Dickerson. She wrote The Atlantic journal’s new cowl story, “We Want To Take Away Kids: The Secret Historical past Of The U.S. Authorities’s Household-Separation Coverage.” The coverage, referred to as zero tolerance, was created throughout the Trump administration mandating that folks who crossed the southern border illegally with youngsters be separated from their youngsters so the dad and mom might be prosecuted criminally.

An actual turning level was in June of 2018, when ProPublica leaked an audio recording of separated youngsters crying for his or her dad and mom inside a authorities facility. And at that time, greater than 4,000 youngsters had been separated from their dad and mom. We’ll play the audio that was leaked. However first, I need you to set it up for us as a result of the audio – even if you happen to communicate Spanish, the audio is not at all times that clear. So inform us what we’re listening to.

DICKERSON: These are youngsters being processed in a CBP facility. They have been…

GROSS: That is Customs and Border Safety.

DICKERSON: Thanks. Sure. They’ve lately been separated from their dad and mom, and so they’re crying out for assist. Some are saying, I need my mother, I need my dad. I need to go together with my mother or father or I need to go together with my aunt. You recognize, they’re asking for info. One baby recites her telephone quantity that her mom had her memorize in case one thing like this had been to occur. And they also’re principally crying out for assist.

GROSS: So that is from June of 2018.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Crying, talking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Talking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Talking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Crying, talking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Talking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Talking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Talking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: (Crying, talking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Talking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: (Talking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Talking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: (Crying, talking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Talking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Crying, talking Spanish).

GROSS: It is painful to listen to that.


GROSS: That was a turning level. In what method?

DICKERSON: I feel this audio was actually vital for a few causes. You recognize, at this level in 2018, you have been listening to the administration say again and again, we don’t have a household separation coverage, that this is not taking place when it clearly was. However you additionally, specifically in conservative circles, have – all through the administration, I ought to say – been listening to this narrative that actually vilifies individuals who cross the border, even those that achieve this to hunt asylum. They had been described in official communications by the administration as felony as, you already know, energetic threats to the homeland in the US, portray with this broad brush this whole group as actually unhealthy and scary and threatening. After which you’ve this audio, which, one, very clearly reveals youngsters crying out for his or her dad and mom, their moms and their fathers, which illustrates, in fact, these youngsters had been separated, however it additionally type of introduced again all the way down to Earth the narrative vilifying these households.

You recognize, if you’ve been listening to for a lot of months that, you already know, anyone dealing with border enforcement measures is, you already know, a nasty felony threatening gang member, however you then hear these cries, which, in fact, the cries of kids are common – there is not any actual distinction between what a Central American migrant baby appears like crying out for his or her mother and, you already know, an American baby born right here on this nation appears like. And so there was a method during which these sounds, I feel, simply minimize by means of the politicized narratives and made very clear, you already know, who’s it that is being impacted by these insurance policies?

GROSS: So that you write that that audio induced a lot outrage that Republicans began worrying about dropping the midterms.

DICKERSON: That is proper. Paul Ryan, who on the time was the Republican speaker of the Home, really mentioned in a gathering with John Kelly, who at that time had been elevated to turn out to be President Trump’s chief of workers, that if a regulation, you already know, banning the separation of households for the needs of deterrence wasn’t handed, he felt that the Republican Get together was going to essentially undergo in midterm elections and lose a major variety of seats. It was a second if you had Republicans like Ted Cruz popping out and saying, you already know, no person believes that youngsters must be taken away from their dad and mom. Kids want their dad and mom. That tenor of that dialog has, in fact, modified amongst Republicans. It was a uncommon second of type of common frustration and common cries for this coverage to go away. And ultimately, it did.

GROSS: So after zero tolerance was formally ended, what was the coverage?

DICKERSON: After zero tolerance formally went away, the administration turned towards different harsh border enforcement insurance policies to attempt to mitigate unlawful immigration. So it’s possible you’ll recall the migrant safety protocols, which required asylum seekers to attend in Mexico for his or her asylum proceedings to be dealt with. Then, with the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, they launched one other coverage referred to as Title 42, which actually took away the authorized proper to entry asylum, based mostly on this argument that it was needed to guard public security in the US. After which, you already know, you had the separation of households cease, however it actually wasn’t clear what was going to occur to the hundreds of children who had been nonetheless in federal custody on the time and their dad and mom, who had been both detained typically or had been deported. And so it wasn’t till a federal court docket ruling that reunifications had been ordered and commenced.

GROSS: And the place are we in that course of now?

DICKERSON: So to this present day, there are a whole lot of households who haven’t been formally reunited. The quantity is between 700 and a thousand, relying on whether or not you are speaking to the ACLU and the federal authorities. You recognize, that highlights an issue that actually impacts this entire story, which is that separations weren’t well-documented. So the information at the moment stays imperfect. However we do know that even amongst that group, there are greater than 150 youngsters whose dad and mom nonetheless have not even been positioned by the federal authorities. So the method of reunification has been mandated by this federal court docket case, and the method is underway. However it’s been sluggish going. And even these households which were reunited are very a lot nonetheless struggling at the moment – you already know, the youngsters in addition to the dad and mom.

GROSS: You spoke to some dad and mom earlier and extra lately for this story. What did you be taught straight from them about how they’re doing?

DICKERSON: What I hear from these households is that they’ve, in some ways, probably not been in a position to transfer on. One father, Nazario Jacinto Carrillo, I interviewed him in 2018 when he was separated from his 5-year-old daughter, who turned 6 in federal custody. He was one of many dad and mom who was advised by officers in DHS that if he agreed to be deported, his daughter can be despatched again to him in two weeks. So once we first related, much more time had handed, and his daughter, Filomena, nonetheless wasn’t house.

You recognize, after I referred to as him and let him know that I used to be going to be scripting this story, I advised him, at the moment, that there have been some households that also hadn’t been reunited. And he was fully speechless. You recognize, I requested if Filomena appears to be like again on her expertise in the US, and he really tried to place her on the telephone with me in order that she might reply herself, however she instantly began crying simply from listening to her dad speak about this. So it is arduous to overstate the diploma to which this expertise remains to be current day by day within the lives of the households who went by means of it.

GROSS: What has the Biden administration been doing each by way of attempting to reunite households that haven’t but been reunited? And likewise, how have they modified coverage about households crossing the border illegally?

DICKERSON: So the Biden administration has been unequivocal in its opposition to household separation. After all, you heard President Biden, even whereas he was campaigning, speak about how he felt like this coverage was felony. And it is not one which they’ve pursued. They shaped a job pressure to attempt to reunify the remaining separated households. And at this level, they’ve reunified not less than 400 of them. Now they’re getting to those harder circumstances which can be simply going to take longer as a result of a lot time has handed. It is arduous to trace individuals down. And people who have not gone by means of the method of making use of for reunification but, in lots of circumstances, they do not have the assets to do it. They proceed to push ahead.

You recognize, what you have not seen is substantial accountability for what occurred. And I requested Biden’s DHS secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, about this. He mentioned that accountability for these chargeable for zero tolerance, together with those that nonetheless work within the federal authorities, ought to fall to the Division of Justice. However the Division of Justice, in court docket circumstances introduced by separated households, has been defending the observe. And you actually see them struggling to determine find out how to take care of their very own rising border crossings, you already know, and never resorting to insurance policies like household separation, however actually additionally being on the receiving finish of frustration from each progressives, who wish to see extra permissive insurance policies or extra readability by way of who’s allowed into the US and who is not, after which, on the Republican facet, this criticism that they are being too lax.

GROSS: Let’s take one other break right here. In case you’re simply becoming a member of us, my visitor is Caitlin Dickerson. She wrote The Atlantic journal’s new cowl story, which is named “We Want To Take Away Kids: The Secret Historical past Of The U.S. Authorities’s Household-Separation Coverage.” We’ll be proper again. That is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: That is FRESH AIR. Let’s get again to my interview with Caitlin Dickerson. She wrote The Atlantic journal’s new cowl story, “We Want To Take Away Kids: The Secret Historical past Of The U.S. Authorities’s Household-Separation Coverage.” That coverage, zero tolerance, was created throughout the Trump administration mandating that folks who crossed the southern border illegally with youngsters be separated from their youngsters so the dad and mom might be prosecuted criminally.

Your article ends with you attempting to succeed in Stephen Miller, the anti-immigration hawk who actually pushed by means of household separation. And also you could not attain him for a remark. You lastly reached him, and he mentioned he had run. So you actually did not get to speak with him. And you then bought an evidence from one in every of his pals about why he did not have time to speak with you. Inform us what you heard.

DICKERSON: Once I was struggling to come up with Stephen Miller as I reported this story, I heard from a detailed buddy of theirs that, you already know, since Miller and his spouse, Katie, who’d labored for DHS and was one of many spokespeople who advised me households weren’t being separated after they had been, you already know, ever since that they had youngsters, that they had simply type of fallen off the map socially. Folks had been having a tough time getting a maintain of them as a result of they had been so targeted on being dad and mom. And Miller really gave me that rationalization or a model of it as nicely at one level after I bought him on the telephone. And he rapidly mentioned he needed to run and despatched me a textual content and mentioned, you already know, sorry, I am with our infant.

I included that element in addition to the truth that all through my interviews, you already know, actually numerous of those officers, invoked their very own youngsters in our conversations casually, you already know, by saying, you already know, can we schedule this interview round, you already know, a soccer sport that my child has or, you already know, can I name you again? I’ve to go decide them up from faculty. I included that as a result of we might be having these conversations a few coverage that that clearly has lifelong penalties for the youngsters impacted by it. And lots of instances, these officers appeared to type of disassociate from these penalties.

You recognize, individuals had been described as knowledge factors or they had been described as, you already know, being in opposition to this administration and its targets and its guarantees to voters. After which they’d flip and speak about their very own youngsters in, in fact, totally totally different phrases. And it simply appeared that they weren’t in a position to make the very clear connection between the 2 teams. And so I included that to level that out. I feel that that disassociation between officers’ personal youngsters and kids crossing the border was actually vital right here in how this coverage got here to be.

GROSS: You assume that this story of the household separation coverage and the way it was applied and the chaos that occurred and the way individuals signed off on it with out actually understanding what the implications can be, you assume that this must be studied by organizational psychologists and ethical philosophers. Why?

DICKERSON: As a result of it is no shock that, you already know, individuals like Stephen Miller or Jeff Periods, you already know, who made careers arguing for harsh enforcement insurance policies, proposed zero tolerance and different insurance policies prefer it, what was shocking right here was the variety of individuals I interviewed who to this present day say they opposed separating households, that that they had grave issues about it and did not imagine in it. And but they had been accountable. You recognize, it was their job as members of the forms who’re subject material consultants, who had, you already know, ethical issues, in addition to very clear issues based mostly on their very own experience, to level out why this coverage wasn’t a good suggestion, wasn’t going to be efficient, that the federal government wasn’t ready to place it into place, and so they did not achieve this. They provided a wide range of explanations.

You recognize, they’d say that it would not have been strategic for me to lift issues in entrance of Stephen Miller as a result of he was so influential. I could not alienate myself in entrance of him. Or they’d say, you already know, I figured this concept was so outlandish and ridiculous that it could by no means be put into place, and so I did not spend an entire lot of time on it because of that. You recognize, this type of tacit permitting of this coverage to proceed all the way in which to the purpose of implementation, that was enabled by lots of people who actually do not appear to have understood, not less than on the time, how a lot they had been doing to permit it to occur. And that, to me, feels prefer it has a much wider lesson for all of us.

GROSS: Caitlin Dickerson, thanks a lot for talking with us. And thanks for this unbelievable piece of reporting.

DICKERSON: Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: Caitlin Dickerson’s in-depth investigative article concerning the household separation coverage is titled “We Want To Take Away Kids.” It is the quilt story of the brand new situation of The Atlantic. If you would like to atone for FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like this week’s interviews with actor Melanie Lynskey, or Washington Submit columnist Dana Milbank, writer of the brand new e-book “The Destructionists: The Twenty-5 12 months Crack-Up Of The Republican Get together,” or Paul Holes, the investigator who was instrumental in figuring out the Golden State Killer and cracking many chilly circumstances, try our podcast. You will discover a lot of FRESH AIR interviews. And to listen to what our producers need to say, try our e-newsletter, which you’ll subscribe to by way of our web site at


GROSS: FRESH AIR’s government producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and evaluations are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed at the moment’s present. I am Terry Gross.


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