The Trump administration separated 1,995 children from 1,940 adults between April 19 and May 31, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said Friday.
The administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which was announced by the Department of Justice in April, separates children from their parents or legal guardians because the adults have been referred to DHS for prosecution for illegal entry into the United States. That’s approximately 46 children per day, over a six-week period.
In a briefing with reporters Friday, DHS officials complained of exaggerated and inaccurate reports about the policy, taking particular issue with a CNN report that a mother had her infant child taken from her arms while she was breastfeeding.
“We do not separate breastfeeding children from their parents. That does not exist, that’s not a policy, that’s not something that DHS does,” a DHS official said.
DHS officials also said they had “no choice” but to separate parents and children at the border.
Pressed on this claim, they said the only alternative option was to ignore the law, though previous administrations have used other methods to keep migrant families together while they wound their way through immigration court proceedings.
The officials could not say whether parents were allowed to say goodbye to their parents before they are separated. Some reports have said parents are told their children is being taken to a separate facility for a bath.
Separating parents from children was rare under the Obama administration and in the early part of the Trump administration, usually reserved only for cases where the safety of a child was in question. Nearly 1,800 immigrant families were separated over 17 months prior to February, according to a Reuters report.