In May, the Trump administration announced a new policy: one of separating migrant families who seek asylum at the U.S. border. This means, very simply, that when parents arrive at the border, their children — who can't be taken with them as they await prosecution for "illegal entry" behind bars — are taken away to a separate facility.
It's been happening since long before May, though. More than 2,400 immigrant families have reportedly been separated since late 2016; the Trump administration's recent announcement has simply made it official policy.
In the past few weeks, harrowing photos and stories of families — largely hailing from Mexico and Central America — dealing with the emotional cost of being pulled apart at the border have flooded social media. These helped kick off a round of protests across the country as on Thursday (June 14). It looks like this could just be the beginning. Here's why — and here's what you can do to help.
Why are families being separated?John Moore/Getty Images
Because the Trump administration's tough anti-immigration policies have taken aim at those entering the U.S. illegally, adults who cross the border are often sent to jail to wait on federal prosecution. The separation happens because they can't keep their children with them behind bars. "If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last month, via Vox.
But where do the children go?
As MSNBC's Jacob Soboroff reported from a child detention center in Texas, "Effectively, these kids are incarcerated." These government facilities are meant to be temporary, though they're already terribly overcrowded. Soboroff's visit to a former Walmart, now used to house kids separated from their parents, revealed rooms designed for four people in each; many have ballooned to five.
What's next for them?John Moore/Getty Images
GOP leaders have proposed a bill that would ban the Trump administration from separating families going forward — but the president has already said he "certainly wouldn't sign" it. In the meantime, a "tent city" is being built in Texas to house nearly 500 migrant children while they await reunion with their families.
What can you do to help?Scott Olson/Getty Images
This week, activists across the U.S. marched to protest the policy as an extension of a movement called Families Belong Together. You can sign a petition to end family separation at their website and stay informed on their upcoming local organized events. And, of course, you can (and should) register to vote ahead of this November's midterm elections.
To learn more about how you can support immigrant families, visit unitedwedream.org.