‘Thousands’ more children separated from parents at US border in 2017-2018

Border officials were told to strip children from their parents to be sent to camps run by the HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, eventually to be placed in US relatives’ homes. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019
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‘Thousands’ more children separated from parents at US border in 2017-2018

  • The department said that so far it has identified 2,737 separated children placed in its care before the controversial policy was officially declared over in May 2018
  • The “zero-tolerance policy” policy was declared amid White House frustration over a resurgence of illegal immigration in the first half of 2018

WASHINGTON: Thousands more children were forcibly separated from their parents after illegally crossing the US-Mexico border from 2017-2018 than originally admitted by President Donald Trump’s administration, an official report said Thursday.
The inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which was given responsibility for the children, said the total number separated under the administration’s “zero-tolerance policy” toward illegal immigrants remains unknown.
But the department said that so far it has identified 2,737 separated children placed in its care before the controversial policy was officially declared over in May 2018, a number not previously divulged.
After the zero-tolerance announcement was made, and before the policy was halted under political and legal pressure, another nearly 3,000 minors were separated from their parents or adult guardians who illegally crossed into the United States.
The policy was declared amid White House frustration over a resurgence of illegal immigration in the first half of 2018 following a decline the previous year.
Border officials were told to strip children from their parents to be sent to camps run by the HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, eventually to be placed in US relatives’ homes.
Meanwhile, their parents were to be arrested and charged with illegal entry into the country.
Many parents spent months searching for their children.
The policy outraged immigrant and children’s advocates and was branded a crime by international rights activists.
Ordered in June 2018 to better account for the children in its care, HHS identified 2,737 it was caring for at that time.
“However, thousands of children may have been separated during an influx that began in 2017, before the accounting required by the Court, and HHS has faced challenges in identifying separated children,” the department said.
The report added that the Office of Refugee Resettlement had dozens and possibly hundreds of children whom it did not know had been separated from their parents.
The report contradicted statements by administration officials — including Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen — that there was a clear system in place for dealing with the children and that there was not a “policy” of separations.
“The OIG report released today shows that the Trump Administration, with its unique blend of incompetence, cruelty, and disregard for basic decency, misled the American public on one of its most heinous policies to date,” said Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson, who heads the House Committee on Homeland Security.
“Thousands more children were separated from their families than we were previously told — and we still don’t even know exactly how many kids have been ripped from their families because the Administration has failed to keep track.”
Late Thursday, Democratic New Jersey Senator Cory Booker branded as a “lie” a tweet by Nielsen in June stating there was no separation policy — and called on her to resign.
“Not only was this a lie — today’s shattering government watchdog report on family separation shows the more we dig, the worse it is,” he wrote on Twitter.
“We’ve seen nothing but a horrifying display of cruelty and incompetence from DHS Secretary Nielsen — she needs to resign.”


Major emperor penguin breeding ground gone barren since 2016

Updated 6 min 34 sec ago
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Major emperor penguin breeding ground gone barren since 2016

  • Usually 15,000 to 24,000 breeding pairs of emperor penguins flock yearly to a breeding site at Halley Bay
  • The place is considered a safe place that should stay cold this century despite global warming

WASHINGTON: For the past three years, virtually nothing has hatched at Antarctica’s second biggest breeding grounds for emperor penguins and the start of this year is looking just as bleak, a new study found.
Usually 15,000 to 24,000 breeding pairs of emperor penguins flock yearly to a breeding site at Halley Bay, considered a safe place that should stay cold this century despite global warming. But almost none have been there since 2016, according to a study in Wednesday’s Antarctic Science.
The breeding pair population has increased significantly at a nearby breeding ground, but the study’s author said it is nowhere near the amount missing at Halley Bay.
“We’ve never seen a breeding failure on a scale like this in 60 years,” said study author Phil Trathan, head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey. “It’s unusual to have a complete breeding failure in such a big colony.”
Normally about 8% of the world’s emperor penguin population breeds at Halley Bay, Trathan said.
Black-and-white with yellow ears and breasts, emperor penguins are the largest penguin species, weighing up to 88 pounds (40 kilograms) and living about 20 years. Pairs breed in the harshest winter conditions with the male incubating their egg.
Scientists blame the sharp decline on climate and weather conditions that break apart the “fast ice” — sea ice that’s connected to the land — where the emperor penguins stay to breed. They incubate their eggs and tend to their chicks — one per pair — on ice. After breeding and tending to the chicks, the penguins move to open sea.
In 2016 and 2017, there was no breeding in Halley Bay and last year there was just a bit, the study found.
The nearby Dawson-Lambton breeding area, which had been home to a couple thousand pairs, increased to 11,117 pairs in 2017 and 14,612 pairs in 2018, the study said.
While that’s encouraging, it doesn’t make up for all that was lost at Halley Bay, Trathan said. “Not everybody has gone to Dawson Lambton yet,” he said.
What’s troubling isn’t that part of the colony has moved to Dawson-Lambton, it is that scientists thought of Halley Bay as a climate change refuge in one of the coldest areas of the continent “where in the future you expect to always have emperors,” Trathan said.
David Ainley, a marine ecologist and penguin expert at the consulting firm H.T. Harvey & Associates, worried that some people will be more alarmed than they need to be because many of the penguins didn’t disappear, but just moved. While not as scary as it may sound initially, with climate change “long term, it’s another question as alternate breeding sites likely will become harder to find,” said Ainley, who was not part of the study.
The study makes sense, and sometimes dramatic environmental change can cause a breeding failure like this, said Stephanie Jenouvrier, a penguin expert at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who wasn’t part of the study.
Trathan said a super strong El Nino — a natural cyclical warming of the central Pacific that changes weather worldwide — melted sea ice more than usual and exposed the fast ice to wind and waves, making the breeding home less stable. He said it’s not possible to say yet if human-caused warming — from fossil fuel burning that creates heat-trapping gases globally — is a factor.
A 2014 study by Jenouvrier projected that because of climate change the global population of emperor penguins will likely fall by at least 19% by the year 2100.
The breeding colony failure, Trathan said, “is a warning of things that might become important in the future.”
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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: @borenbears .
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