Trump separated thousands of immigrant children from their parents. Can Biden fix it?

Piercing crying, fear and no possibility to say goodbye. Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy orphaned thousands of children. Now Biden administration is trying to correct his mistakes. He has allowed the arrival of the first group of immigrants separated from their children

During his first days as a president, Joe Biden wanted to show that he intends to withdraw the USA from controversial and catastrophic decisions of the Trump administration. Right after his inauguration he lifted a travel ban on people from Muslim countries (the so called Muslim Ban). He also ordered to promptly reunite immigrant parents with their children, who were separated upon Donald Trump’s order during arrests and deportations. This was a part of his fearsome immigration policy. 

As announced by the United States Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, the US authorities will allow for the arrival of the first group of immigrants, who have been separated from their children at the border. Four out of more than thousand separated families will be reunited. Parents have been granted a humanitarian parole to the US. Among them, there are mothers from Mexico and Honduras, who were deported in 2017 without their children. 

“The first families reuniting this week are mothers. They are sons. And they are daughters. They are children who were 3 years old at the time of separation. Also they are teenagers who have had to live without their parents during their most formative years” – said the Secretary, quoted by CBS TV. 

They escaped, so that their daughters wouldn’t fall victim to crime

Donald Trump never concealed his plans for the immigrants. He structured his election campaign around the idea of building a US- Mexico border wall. Yet despite sealing the borders, numerous deportations and arrests, US actions did not discourage the inhabitants of Latin America and Mexico from trying to get into the US in search of a better life. 

So then Trump decided to implement the solution that no one has dared to introduce before. He attacked the mothers by taking away their children. Trump attacked women who were running away from Mexico, Honduras or Guatemala, running away from domestic abuse, rape, gang recruitment and even human trafficking. He attacked mothers who had decided the escape so that their daughters wouldn’t be forced to prostitution when they grow up. 

During his campaign, Donald Trump only mentioned that he would stop illegal immigration to the United States. He said that he would tighten immigration rules. He did not tell his voters, however, how he would achieve this. Nor that he intended to separate children, including babies, from their parents or guardians, who were trying to cross the border illegally. Adults, after being indicted, were kept at federal prisons and later deported back to their countries of origin, but now without their children.

United States Attorney General: “We have to take the children”

The decision to separate families was officially in force on the US-Mexico border from April to June 2018. According to the official government data, the number of children separated from their parents was over 4 thousand. But the real number can be much higher. Taking away children from their parents at the border, including parents that were seeking asylum, was the official US policy.

Throughout 2017, from the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, head officials of the United States Department of Justice and of the Department of Homeland Security were exchanging emails suggesting the extension of family separation policy. The then United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, during one of the meetings, told his co-workers that “we have to take their children”. Also Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior advisor and one of the people making immigration decisions in his administration, said that not following the family separation policy would mean “the end of our country as we know it”.  

Without saying goodbye

What was happening to the children taken away from the parents who were trying to illegally cross the border? They were being sent to temporary detention centres for children, among others in Texas. And if there was place, then they were sent to orphanages. Conditions in these centres for immigrant children were catastrophic. Children were sleeping on the ground, in cages made of wire net, under foil blankets. They spent most of their time inside the centre. Hygiene and food standards also left a lot to be desired. The youngest children did not have any toys and they had to take care of one another. 

Children were taken away from their parents or guardians by force or by deception. They did not know what happened to their loved ones. Parents did not even have the chance to say goodbye to their children. To tell them, maybe for the last time, that they love them. To promise them that they will come back. They could not. They were aware that they were perhaps seeing them for the very last time. 

Populism won

Under the pressure of the public opinion and after many protests, the Trump administration withdrew from the official policy of separating families of illegal immigrants. The protesters compared the actions of the then president to what was happening during the era of slavery or World War Two. 

Probably neither the Trump administration nor the United States of America will ever bear responsibility for causing suffering to so many families. How did this happen that a nation considered by the international community to be the symbol of democracy and the insurer of human rights committed such a shameful atrocity? 

Trump made some populist promises to get into power and he succeeded. His orders, with catastrophic consequences, were executed with the consent of many voters. Those voters also saw immigrants as a threat to their powerful America. 

For hundreds of children it is already too late

Orphaning thousands of children just to scare away the immigrants, so that they would not try to cross the US border in search of a better life is one of the darkest pages in the US history. Lawyers are still fighting to find parents of at least a couple hundred of separated children. Is there hope that the children who were taken away will ever return to their biological parents?

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The people in power did everything so that it never happens. First of all, no sufficient documentation on the families, which would allow for parents-children reunion, was written. 

Many children have been separated for the last couple of years. Both they and their parents have to face traumas, which will stay with them for the rest of their lives. And what about children whose families will not be found? Most frequently they will end up in orphanages or in foster families. Within “DACA” programme, immigrants who came to the US as minors can be granted temporary, conditional stay and are eligible for a work permit. It also allows them to obtain a driver’s license or  apply for a social security number

Will the “new Americans” ever discover the truth about themselves?

Older children will remember where they come from. But the younger, and the babies, may have difficulties with their own identity. Will the officials or foster parents ever tell them the truth about how they came to the United States? Will the children from Mexico, Honduras or Guatemala, once they grow up, find out that their lives look the way they do because they fell victim to a brutal anti-immigration policy? Or maybe the new authorities will turn them into the “new Americans”, who do not know their origins? 

Laura Maksimowicz – journalist associated with non-governmental organizations. She studies international relations and focuses on migration, humanitarian aid and social issues. Member of the Salam Lab team. Follow Laura on social media: IG: @laura_maksimowicz.

Translated by Maja Tkocz – English philology student, interested in translation and teaching English to students with special educational needs. In her free time she crochets. Volunteer at the Salam Lab. 


[1] T. Zalewski, Porządki po Trumpie. Szybkie pierwsze decyzje Bidena, Polityka,

[2] Zezwolą na połączenie rodzin z dziećmi rozdzielonymi na granicy, TVN24/PAP,

[3] Family separation under the Trump administration – a timeline, Southern Poverty Law Center,

[4] The Trump Administration’s Family Separation  Policy is Over. What comes next?, Center for American Progress,

[5] Dzieci odebrane rodzicom płaczą i krzyczą. Amerykański strażnik kpi: Ale tu mamy orkiestrę,,

[6] USA: Protesty przeciwko odbieraniu dzieci rodzicomRzeczpospolita,

[7] Parents of 545 children still not found three years after Trump separation policy, The Guardian,

[8] What Is DACA? Everything You Need to Know, Boundless.

Cover photo: demonstration against separating migrant families on the USA border. Minneapolis, Minnesota. Credit: Fibonacci Blue via


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