Images of young boys behind chainlink fences and a report that the government lost track of almost 1,500 minors have sparked outrage over the U.S.'s treatment of child immigrants, but some criticism has missed the mark.

Expand chart
Data: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, fiscal years 2012-16, 2017, and 2018; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Between the lines: There are three unrelated concerns. But only one — the separation of children from their parents — is a trend that began with the Trump administration’s immigration agenda.

1. Separating of children from their parents

The Trump administration announced that they would begin prosecuting anyone who crosses the U.S. border illegally as part of Attorney General Jeff Sessions "zero-tolerance" policy. This will lead to more children being separated from the parents who will face prosecution. Sessions has said, "If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally."

2. 1,500 lost children

There have been reports that Health and Human Services lost track of almost 1,500 children who crossed the border as unaccompanied minors. After being apprehended by Customs and Border Patrol, these 0-17 year olds who cross into the U.S. without their parents are sent to HHS, which places them, most often, with family already in the U.S.

  • Why it matters: 30 days after placing a child with a "sponsor," HHS calls the sponsor. There have been 1,475 cases in which the sponsor did not answer that phone call, HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan told Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday, arguing that it does not mean those children are "lost."
  • Yes, but: In 2014, there were some cases of children accidentally being placed in human trafficking situations; a Senate report found 6 children who were forced to work long hours on an egg farm.

In a call with reporters on Tuesday morning, DHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Jonathan Hoffmann and HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary Stephen Wagner said the two agencies are working to set up a system that would better ensure the safety of children placed with sponsors, which would include fingerprint tracking of sponsors.

3. Prison-like child immigrant detention centers

This image is from 2014, when the Obama administration faced a surge of unaccompanied minors and family units from Central America and created short term detention centers to house them. (Read more about how Trump inherited a surge in Central American asylum seekers.)


Yes, but: Children are still often temporarily detained when they cross the border unaccompanied and families are most often sent to three facilities: the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas, and Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania, which have had reputations of poor, prison-like conditions, according to the American Immigration Council.

Go deeper

Updated 21 mins ago - World

At least 50 killed, 3,000 injured after massive explosion rocks Beirut

Photo: Anwar Amro/AFP via Getty Images

A major explosion has slammed central Beirut, Lebanon, damaging buildings as far as several miles away and injuring scores of people.

Driving the news: The cause of the explosion is unknown. Lebanon's health minister said in televised remarks that more than 50 people have been killed and over 3,000 injured.

57 mins ago - Podcasts

The debate over COVID-19 liability protections

Stimulus talks continue to move slowly, with Democrats and Republicans unable to agree on whether or not to include coronavirus-related liability protections for businesses, health facilities and schools.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the debate, which could reset the cost-benefit analysis for businesses thinking about reopening and employees thinking about returning.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 p.m. ET: 18,364,694 — Total deaths: 695,848 — Total recoveries — 10,965,634Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 p.m. ET: 4,742,277 — Total deaths: 156,133 — Total recoveries: 1,513,446 — Total tests: 57,543,852Map.
  3. States: New York City health commissioner resigns in protest of De Blasio's coronavirus response — New York ER doctor on pandemic advice: "We know what works"
  4. Public health: 59% of Americans support nationwide 2-week stay-at-home order in NPR poll Atrium Health CEO says "virtual hospital" has treated 13,000 COVID patients.
  5. Politics: Republicans push to expand small business loan program Trump tells "Axios on HBO" that pandemic is "under control," despite surges in infections.
  6. Sports: Indy 500 to be held without fansRafael Nadal opts out of U.S. Open.