They were separated for almost four months. Although they crossed the border at a legal point of entry, Capi and his 12-year-old daughter Jamie were separated — and this was in March, a month before the Trump administration implemented its zero-tolerance policy requiring family separations.
Capi (not his real name) traveled from Honduras and entered the United States with Jamie at Hidalgo, Texas. They walked across the international bridge, presented themselves to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer, and asked for help.
The father and daughter were classified as “arriving aliens” once they were presented to a CBP officer.
The pair was following the law: “If you are seeking asylum, go to a port of entry. You do not need to break the law of the United States to seek asylum,” Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. homeland security secretary, said during a June briefing at the White House. “If an adult enters at a port of entry and claims asylum, they will not face prosecution for illegal entry. They have not committed a crime by coming to the port of entry.”
The father-daughter duo did everything by the book, yet they were separated.
Capi went to the Rio Grande Detention Center and then was transferred to Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey. Jamie was taken to a facility in Harlem, New York, which is operated by the Cayuga Centers — a local nonprofit under contract with the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to house unaccompanied minors. The 12-year-old was taken care of by a foster family who Jamie said at times had six children under its care.
The problem of fathers and daughters
According to a CBP official, if a male adult comes to the border with his daughter, the two are generally processed together. As long as there is no suspicion of harm to the child and there is no doubt that they are a family unit, they are not normally separated.
“They are held separate temporarily until ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security] can come … they’re either released or they go into a family residential center, and they do have family residential centers with male heads of households with daughters. They’re not as common because they don’t have as many,” the official said.
“I will tell you … it is much harder to find a place for a male head of household with a female daughter than it is a female head of household,” the CBP spokesperson added.
The official could not speak about Capi’s case but did say there are situations where separation has occurred based on an agent’s discretion.
“If there is a point in time that our agents feel that maybe that child [a minor girl] is not safe in an environment, then they would put that child in a female UAC [unaccompanied minor] holding area until the disposition of the family unit was made. And then they will get released or sent to ICE together,” the official said.