FRONTLINE Presents “Separated: Children at the Border” — An In-Depth Investigation of How America’s Immigration Policies Reached This Point
Separated: Children at the Border
Tuesday, July 31, 2018, at 10 p.m. ET / 9 p.m. CT on PBS & online
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What’s happened to the more than 2,000 families who were separated after crossing the U.S. border unlawfully earlier this year? And how did immigration policy in America reach this point?
In a special FRONTLINE report called Separated: Children at the Border that premieres Tuesday, July 31 on PBS and online, acclaimed producer Marcela Gaviria and correspondent Martin Smith examine immigration policy under both Trump and Obama, investigate the origins of “zero tolerance” — and reveal the journeys and voices of children who were separated from their parents.
Children like six-year-old Meybelin, whose father fled El Salvador with her to escape violence. After crossing into America and turning themselves in to Border Patrol, they were separated — with her father, Arnovis, deported, and Meybelin held in an Arizona shelter for 33 days before being sent back to him in El Salvador.
“They took me in a plane,” Meybelin says of being separated. “They said, ‘Your dad is going to come later on a plane.’ And then, when I got there and I didn’t see him… I said, ‘And my dad?’ ‘He’ll be here soon.’ And it was a lie.”
Now, they’re reunited — but they’re back in the path of the violence they had tried to escape. And Meybelin, her father says, remains traumatized by what she experienced in America.
“Were you afraid?” her father asks her in the film.
“Yes. And they would tell me that if I cried they wouldn’t pay attention to me,” she says.
Meybelin is one of nearly 3,000 children separated from their parents under a Trump administration policy of criminally prosecuting any adult who enters the country unlawfully. Separated: Children at the Border investigates the impact of the policy, and the government’s handling of immigrant children who were separated from their parents after crossing into America prior to Trump’s executive order stopping the practice in June.
“They didn’t tell me anything,” says 15-year-old Yoselyn Bulux. “They just told me that they were going to take me to a shelter and that I would never see my mom again.”
In the film, now-retired Acting Director of ICE Thomas Homan defends the Trump administration’s actions: “We have to address the border,” he says.
When Smith asks Homan what he thought of the audio released by ProPublica of separated children wailing in a detention center, he says he hasn’t heard it — adding, “I’ve heard many children cry in my 34 years. I don’t need to hear children cry.” Then, Smith plays it for him. Homan acknowledges that as a parent, it’s sad to hear – but continues to say the administration’s actions were necessary.
As the film explores, Trump isn’t the first president to be met with a public outcry over toughened immigration policies. In fact, some say what happened on immigration during the Obama years would help lay the groundwork for what Trump did next. The documentary traces Obama’s actions on immigration, including the expanded use of family detention and a controversial increase in deportations, which left some families separated.
The film also details how an unexpected surge of unaccompanied minors in 2014, fueled by violence in Central America, took the administration completely by surprise and left border agencies overwhelmed and underprepared. Officials even considered separating children from their parents when they crossed the border as a deterrent, Obama’s former Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz tells FRONTLINE — but quickly nixed the idea.
“We all kind of looked at each other and said, ‘We’re not gonna do that, are we?’” Muñoz tells Smith. “And it was pretty clear we weren’t. And that’s pretty much as far as it went.”
Filmed in Central America and at the border, the documentary traces how the U.S.’s immigration policies involving children have played out over the years — and why, even for those families who have now been reunited, the scars remain.
“It’s like she’s afraid that the same thing is going to happen all over again,” Arnovis says of his daughter Meybelin. “It’s like she feels that her time with me is running out.”
Separated: Children at the Border premieres Tuesday, July 31, at 10/9c on PBS and online at pbs.org/frontline.
Separated: Children at the Border is a FRONTLINE production with Rain Media, Inc. The producer is Marcela Gaviria. The co-producers are Brian Funck, Anjali Tsui & Sara Obeidat. The correspondent is Martin Smith. The writers are Marcela Gaviria & Martin Smith. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.
FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 89 Emmy Awards and 20 Peabody Awards. Visit pbs.org/frontline and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and Google+ to learn more. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Abrams Foundation, the Park Foundation, the John and Helen Glessner Family Trust and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.
FRONTLINE, Patrice Taddonio, Patrice_taddonio@wgbh.org, 617.300.5375