The Mexican government offered a rare glimpse Tuesday of the migrant families that have been separated as the Trump administration has sought to more aggressively prosecute immigrants who enter the country illegally. The practice has been met with growing anger and condemnation outside the United States. Foreign governments have warned about long-term psychological damage to the children and vowed to work through their consular networks to swiftly reunite families.
In Mexico’s first public response to the “zero tolerance” policy, Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray called the family separations “cruel and inhumane.” He said Mexico has lodged complaints at the highest levels of the Trump administration, including with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, as well as with the United Nations.
“The government of Mexico cannot remain indifferent to a situation of this nature,” Videgaray said.
The minister highlighted the “particularly painful case” of a 10-year-old Mexican girl with Down syndrome who was taken away from her mother last week and is in a shelter in McAllen, Tex., along with her twin brother. The father is a U.S. resident living about 60 miles away, in Brownsville, Tex., he said. Videgaray urged U.S. authorities to reunite the girl with her father as soon as possible.
Sada said Mexican authorities have been told the girl has not been released because U.S. officials are “still evaluating the father.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials on Wednesday provided new details about the girl’s case, saying that her mother is being held as a witness in a smuggling case and that U.S. authorities are “working to reunite the mother with her children as soon as possible.”
The mother and her five children were detained June 3 as they were being driven by a suspected smuggler, CBP said in a statement. The mother admitted to being illegally in the United States but is not being prosecuted; rather, she is being held as a material witness in an attempt to prosecute the smuggler, a U.S. citizen, according to the statement.
Three of the children are U.S. citizens and were released to an aunt. Two others, including the 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome, are Mexican citizens and remain in U.S. government custody.
Outrage has been spreading quickly over a policy that has left migrant children in desert tent camps and in chain-link cages. A spokesman for the French government called the images of these children “shocking” and said Europe does not share the same values as the Trump administration. On Monday, the government of El Salvador and the U.N. secretary general also criticized the policy.
“I want to express, in the name of the government and people of Mexico, our most categorical and energetic condemnation of this cruel and inhumane policy,” Videgaray said at a news conference here Tuesday.
Mexico’s network of 50 consulates in the United States has been working since the policy was first announced to find separated children and get them back to their families, he said. So far, fewer than 25 of the more than 2,000 migrant children who have been taken from their parents — or about 1 percent — are Mexican, he said, noting that the vast majority have come from the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Most of the Mexican children have already been deported.
Mexican officials say they are concerned about a number of Trump administration immigration policies, including the increasing numbers of detentions and deportations this year of undocumented immigrants. They also say they oppose the recent decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to make it harder for people suffering from gang violence or domestic abuse to get asylum in the United States.
“The increase of the anti-immigrant policies [of the Trump administration] has been systematic,” Carlos Sada, a deputy foreign secretary in charge of North America, said in an interview.
Sada described how a dozen Mexican children were taken from their mothers, who were detained in Seattle after crossing the U.S. border. Seven of the children have been sent back to relatives in Mexico, but the other five have been dispatched to detention centers across the country, Sada said.
Mexican officials said that parents often do not have a way to communicate with their children when they are being held in separate detention centers.
“We know many cases where the parents simply can’t talk to their kids,” Videgaray said.
Trump lashed out at Mexico on Tuesday, saying the country does “nothing for us” to stop illegal immigration into the United States.
In recent years, the rampant violence and poverty in Central American nations has driven people by the thousands to seek refuge or a better life in the United States. In the first year of the Trump administration, the number of apprehensions of border crossers — a proxy for overall numbers of illegal entrants — fell sharply. But illegal crossings have been rising again this year, angering Trump and leading to more severe policies intended to deter people from entering the United States.
Nielsen, the DHS chief, has said that releasing parents who bring children illegally across the border would be like giving them a “get out of jail free card.” The Trump administration has said it has kept the migrant children in government care while it carries out background checks on those seeking to take custody of them.
The new policy of seeking to prosecute all those caught entering illegally — which results in the separation of adults from their children — has been greeted by rejection around the world.
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres warned Monday that “children must not be traumatized by being separated from their parents.” A spokesman for the French government, Benjamin Griveaux, told a French television station that Europe and the United States “do not share the same model of civilization; clearly we don’t share certain values.”
The government of El Salvador, the homeland of many of the separated children, said in a statement Monday that the Trump administration’s policy is exposing boys and girls to “extremely adverse conditions that surely will have long-term consequences on their physical health and psychological development.”
Videgaray, the Mexican foreign minister, said Central American officials would convene in Mexico in the coming days to formulate a further response to the Trump administration, with the goal of “ending this policy that violates the human rights of girls and boys, no matter their nationality.”