Earlier this year, a young Honduran woman named Mirian gathered her 18-month-old son into her arms and walked across the bridge between Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas, where she presented herself to U.S. border agents to ask for asylum. Mirian and her son spent the night in a detention facility. The next day, officials told her to put her son into a car seat in the back of a government vehicle. Her hands shook as she buckled him in. The officials wouldn’t tell her where they were taking him, she wrote in a personal statement later published by CNN.com–only that she would not be allowed to go with him. As the car pulled away, she could see her baby looking back at her through the window, screaming.
For the next 2½ months, Mirian was detained at an immigration center, unable to speak with or visit her son, according to her lawyer Elissa Steglich. Mirian wondered if her son would forget the sound of her voice. “The separation is very harsh,” says Denise Gilman, who heads the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, and who met with Mirian. “It often means not knowing where the other is.”
Mirian and her son were eventually reunited, but a version of her parental nightmare has now become U.S. policy. On May 7, the Trump Administration announced a “zero tolerance” agenda on the U.S. border. The policy seems simple: anyone who crosses the border without authorization is now subject to prosecution for a federal misdemeanor, which can result in a sentence of 180 days for a first offense. Because children can’t be jailed alongside adults, minors must be separated and kept in juvenile facilities while their moms or dads are incarcerated.