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Opinion: The US Owes Separated Migrant Families Much More Than Reunification

The night before her 15-year-old son was taken, Leticia Peren remembers putting her hand on his shoulder as they headed for separate male and female quarters at a Border Patrol station in Texas. “Rest,” she told him. “We’re safe here.”

Exhausted from their journey, she fell asleep. When she woke, he was gone.

“That’s when my torment began,” she said.

The mother and son were separated in fall 2017 as part of a trial run of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. More than two years passed before Peren saw her son Yovany again. From mid-2017 to mid-2018, border authorities would subject more than 5,600 families to similar trauma.

Negotiations currently underway between the Biden administration and the American Civil Liberties Union will largely determine what the government owes those families. So far, the administration has primarily focused on physical reunification of parents and children.

This op-ed in The Washington Post was written by Fanny García, an oral historian at the Women’s Refugee Commission, and Nara Milanich, who teaches Latin American history at Barnard College. They have interviewed more than two dozen currently and formerly separated families.

Learn more about WRC’s work on children and families seeking safety in the United States.