As many as 70 immigrants at a time fill nearly all the wooden benches in a federal court in McAllen, Tx.,, still wearing the same jeans and hooded sweatshirts they were in when apprehended days before. Under the new federal “zero tolerance” strategy of prosecuting every migrant entering the U.S. illegally, many of them were parents separated from their children after being imprisoned, the Houston Chronicle reports. Most had never been in the U.S. before and sat, shackled and terrified, with one overriding concern. “All I could think about was my daughter,” said one defendant. The Rio Grande Valley region is the epicenter of President Trump’s latest controversial immigration policy, a hardline approach to curbing illegal immigration that has met resistance from some Republicans.
More than half of all migrant families and children apprehended at the southern border wade across the river near McAllen and since mid-May, public defenders said more than 430 parents have been separated from their children while facing prosecution. The United Nations has condemned the practice, but the administration said the strategy is necessary to handle a “crisis” at the border. Though overall illegal crossings are at their lowest in decades, the number of families and children entering the U.S. rose another 14 percent in May to almost 16,000, reaching levels last seen during the Obama administration. The number of migrants apprehended at the southern border or turning themselves in to ports of entry remained at more than 50,000 for the third consecutive month. Once migrant parents are charged, their children are transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services, which places them in 100 temporary shelters around the U.S. After adults serve their criminal sentence of a few days or weeks, they move to Homeland Security detention centers and can be quickly deported, sometimes without their children.