Former Acting ICE Director Reacts to Audio of Separated Children
Hundreds of immigrant children who were separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy have yet to be reunited with them, despite last week’s court-imposed deadline — in some cases, because the parents have already been deported.
It’s the latest development in an evolving story that has dominated headlines ever since more than 2,000 families were separated earlier this year, under a Trump administration policy of criminally prosecuting any adult who enters the country unlawfully.
On July 31, in a new documentary called Separated: Children at the Border, FRONTLINE investigates the origins and impact of the policy, and the government’s handling of immigrant children who were separated from their parents after crossing into the United States prior to President Donald Trump’s executive order halting the practice in June.
Helping to implement the policy prior to the executive order was Thomas Homan, acting director of ICE from 2017 until the end of June. FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith sat down with Homan several weeks after ProPublica released audio of crying, detained immigrant children who had been separated from their parents.
The tape shocked the world and led the news for days. Homan told Smith he hadn’t listened.
“I’ve heard many children cry in my 34 years,” he told Smith in the above excerpt from the documentary. “I don’t need to hear children cry.”
Then, Smith played the tape for him.
Homan acknowledged that as a parent, it was sad to hear. But he said the administration needed to “address the border.”
“When the government chooses to enforce the law and they separate the parents who have been prosecuted, just like every U.S. citizen person in this country gets separated when he gets arrested… but people want a different set of rules for an illegal alien,” he told Smith.
In Separated: Children at the Border, Smith and producer Marcela Gaviria explore what made the separations under the “zero tolerance” policy different from those under other circumstances. With reporting from Central America, Mexico and the border, the documentary traces how both presidents Trump and Obama handled minors at the border, and examines how the separation policy came to be.
The film also reveals the journeys and voices of children who were separated from their parents — and why, even for those families who have now been reunited, the scars remain.
“It’s like she feels her time with me is running out… like she’s afraid it could happen all over again,” says one father who was separated from his six-year-old daughter.
Separated: Children at the Border premieres Tuesday, July 31 at 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. CST on PBS and online.