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Lomi Kriel, Houston Chronicle, Nov. 25, 2017 - "Patricia Mejia gathered her three young children and made the arduous journey through Mexico to the U.S. border to escape El Salvador's often deadly violence.
When Border Patrol agents found the family near El Paso's international bridge this fall, Mejia had the children's birth certificates and said she wanted to ask for asylum and join her sister in Houston. She told the agents that a gang had threatened to kill her.
Up until a few months ago, the family would most likely have been detained together and released with instructions to appear in immigration court. There they could argue for asylum through a civil proceeding.
But under President Donald Trump's clampdown on immigration, Mejia was imprisoned for the criminal charge of illegally crossing the border, and her children were taken away and placed in federal foster care.
The White House threatened earlier this year to separate parents and children at the border, but backed off amid outrage. Then, in April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to ramp up criminal charges for immigration offenses such as crossing the border without authorization. The effect, advocates say, was tantamount to a de-facto policy of family separation.
The Houston Chronicle has identified 22 cases since June in which parents like Mejia with no history of immigration violations were prosecuted for the misdemeanor crime of improper entry and had their children removed. Minors cannot be kept in federal prison.
Defense attorneys cite dozens more such cases. Groups who care for unaccompanied children report hundreds of recent separations, in which parents often lose touch with children in an opaque federal system involving a litany of agencies. The government declined to release its own statistics."