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A Tortoise File

Orphaned by America

Five years after Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy was implemented at the Mexican border, 300 children remain alone, their parents untraceable

First published
Monday 6 September 2021

Last updated
Monday 6 September 2021

Why this story?

On 6 April 2018, President Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, directed federal prosecutors “to adopt immediately a zero-tolerance” approach to anyone crossing the border illegally. It was a brutal policy, which had been started, furtively, a year earlier and resulted in the separation of around 5,500 children from their parents. Five years later, 300 children remain alone, their parents untraceable. There is no note of their parents’ name, no phone number, no attorney, no sponsor. It is, we felt, an intolerable number, and one which prompted our investigation into how this is possible; how it came to be that America had effectively orphaned hundreds of minors. In American history, this is surely one of its darkest episodes. And, it turns out, it isn’t yet over. Basia Cummings, Editor

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Photograph by John Moore/Getty Images