For more than a year, top officials in the Trump administration threatened to prosecute parents caught crossing the southwest border illegally and separate them from their children in the process. The aim was deterrence. The government tested the enforcement measure in pockets along the U.S.-Mexico divide throughout the second half of 2017. Then, on April 6, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the tactic a border-wide reality, calling for a program of “zero tolerance.” By that point, the number of family separations that had already taken place was well into the hundreds. There would be thousands more in the weeks that followed. Babies, toddlers, and asylum-seekers were all swept up in the crackdown.
A recent injunction from a federal judge ordered the government to begin reunifying the families it has separated, but questions remain: Can the government do it? Will it? And who are these children? Where are they? And where are their parents? As armies of attorneys descend on the border to confront the crisis created by the Trump administration, news organizations ProPublica, BuzzFeed News, The Intercept, Univision News, Animal Político, Plaza Pública, and El Faro are partnering to gather vital information about the children in immigration detention facilities and shelters.
The government has provided varying counts of the total number of families it has separated. Overlapping timelines make a precise figure difficult to pin down. Recently, the government has claimed that 2,047 children taken from their parents after the order officially went into effect remain separated. But counts that factor in separations before the policy became official reflect a larger impact: The Intercept tallied as many as 3,700 in June, and McClatchy reported the real total could be as high as 6,000. Even after the administration backtracked on the policy — following intense backlash and public horror that followed the release of images and recordings of some separated children — it offered little clarity on what to expect in the coming weeks, pledging to continue with its “zero-tolerance” policy, but offering no answers as to how that is possible without the mass detention of families, for which there aren’t enough resources, and would violate an existing legal agreement.
But what’s even more unclear is the fate of the children the government has already taken in custody, and who has been sent to dozens of facilities across the country, thousands of miles away from their detained, and sometimes already deported, parents. Reports have emerged revealing a bureaucracy that was deliberately thrust into chaos, with children walking away from shelters, attempting to jump off the windows of foster homes, and being flown across the country on late-night flights and transported through city streets with their heads covered by blankets. Parents and lawyers, meanwhile, have had to frantically call hotlines and are put on hold for hours, with operators telling them they have no information, including where their children are or when they’ll see them again.
If you or someone you know has been impacted by “zero tolerance,” we want to know. If you know a child in a facility, or know something about a facility, click on the map above to fill out a questionnaire. To contact Intercept reporters covering family separation directly, write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. While The Intercept will use this information for reporting purposes, we will not publish any personal identifying information without your consent. If you wish to communicate confidentially you can do that here and here. Help us make sure that every single child is accounted for.