The Trump administration has an intentional and explicit policy of separating migrant children from their families if caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without permission. Long before that, however, the administration of Barack Obama ramped up a program with a sometimes similar effect.
Since 2008, the United States has had a policy known as the Alien Transfer Exit Program (ATEP), or Lateral Repatriation. This program focuses on detaining male migrants of Mexican descent.
Here’s how it works: Once an immigrant is caught attempting to cross the border without documentation, they are detained, flown or bused across the United States and then shown the exit at another segment of the U.S.-Mexico border–thousands of miles from their original point of entry.
Sparingly used upon inception, the Obama administration drastically increased the use of ATEP in 2011, responding to a perceived increase in attempts at immigration into the United States by Mexican nationals.
But immigrants’ rights activists had long cautioned that Lateral Repatriation breaks up families. The reason is fairly simple: many male Mexican nationals who are detained trying to cross the border often come with their families in tow. When ATEP is used, the men are captured and taken thousands of miles away, while their wives, partners and children are placed in immigrant detention centers.
Eventually, the men are released into vastly different parts of Mexico than where they originally hailed from, while their families are likely to be deported near the original point of attempted entry. Mothers and older female relatives were typically given the option of staying with their children. Typically this meant being housed in a “family detention center,”most of which are located in Texas or Pennsylvania.
Multiple stories about those family detention centers written during the Obama era–just not by the mainstream media. In particular, dozens of stories about the Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Arizona particular were written by journalists at Shadowproof, a reader-supported media outlet, alone. Journalists for Shadowproof also frequently reported on the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas. Most media declined to investigate these facilities until fairly recently.