Martha Mendoza and Garance Burke, AP - The Reality on the Border

Martha Mendoza and Garance Burke, AP
The Reality on the Border


Well, who could pretend to be surprised?  The greatest con man in New York City’s criminal history should also be a master of the shell game.

And, it apparently makes no difference to Donald Trump, this masterful career criminal, that in this case, what’s being hidden beneath the moving shells are not peas but children, so-called “unaccompanied minors” who surrendered to Border Patrol officers after entering the United States and were handed over for safe-keeping to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Of course, many of these children were not unaccompanied when they crossed the border. They are the victims of the Trump administration’s allegedly short-lived family separation policy.  That policy was officially ended last June after six weeks of very public enforcement of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” policy, during which more than 2,000 children were sent away from their loved ones to detention centers.

“I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” said the president as he rescinded the policy.  The truth of this claim might be smudged a bit by Mr. Trump’s most persistent enemy, the facts.  Family separation as a federal response to the surge of Central American families fleeing drug gangs, violence and relentlessly corrupt, American-supported governments in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, actually began, not with Sessions’ grand announcement in May 2018, but secretly six months earlier. Recent reporting has shown it has not ended yet.

In the eight months since the suddenly soft-hearted president changed his policy some 272 children were cast into the federal immigrant child care system in one Texas federal courthouse alone.  Why? Because they crossed the border with relatives other than their parents, such as grandparents, uncles and aunts, or adult siblings.

The San Diego-based federal judge, Dana Sabraw, who ordered that children be reunited with their families, says these new facts make his old order obsolete, and is readying a new one.

But meanwhile 2,400 children remain in federal custody, many of them in what Congressional visitors have described as prison-like conditions.  The largest single concentration of these “kidnapped” children had been held a tent city slapped together in the desert southeast of El Paso.  Conditions at the Tornillo camp were so embarrassing that the contractor running it fled, saying it would no longer renew its lucrative contract.

So, the government is replacing it with a new camp at Homestead, Florida.  One deficiency at Tornillo that got the attention of Congressional visitors was that the only educational opportunity on offer was a workbook, no teachers and no lessons.  The plan for the new camp at Homestead is apparently the same.  The local school superintendent, who had sent in teachers and an educational plan when that same base had been used as an immigration prison a few years ago, has been told not to bother about these children.

Say what? he wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Neilsen.  Yes, I’m gratuitously paraphrasing the school superintendent’s letter.  But he says what Neilsen said in reply was essentially, nothing.



Martha Mendoza is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. Her reports have prompted Congressional hearings and new legislation, Pentagon investigations and White House responses. She was part of a team whose investigations into slavery in the Thai seafood sector have led to the freedom of more than 2,000 men. And she was part of a team that uncovered the No Gun Ri massacre, when US troops killed hundreds of South Korean refugees early in the Korean War. During her Associated Press career, she’s been based in Mexico City, Bangkok, Silicon Valley, New York and New Mexico. She was a Stanford Knight Fellow and a Princeton Ferris Visiting Professor and she has taught at UC Santa Cruz for more than a decade. She’s an advocate for accurate journalism, government transparency and the public’s right to know.

Garance Burke is an investigative journalist for The Associated Press, where she specializes in reports that reveal vital truths in the public interest. Often driven by data and documents, her work has helped to shape presidential elections, inspired congressional hearings and triggered federal investigations. Burke joined AP in 2005 after working for The Washington Post in Mexico City. Her work has received SPJ’s Sigma Delta Chi national investigative reporting award, a national Edward R. Murrow award, National Headliner Awards and top honors from SABEW. She has lectured on data journalism at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.



Subscribe to insider notes from Dave Marash along with previews and cartoons of upcoming podcasts. You’ll be richer, taller, and if you don’t eat, thinner.


Here & There is kept afloat by wonderful sponsors and curious listeners like you. Your support is appreciated!