The best documented story of the Trump Administration’s child separation policy’s origins, implementation and deception was written by Caitlin Dickerson in the Atlantic in December, 2022 (go here). Here is a transcript of Dickerson recounting how she did her research.
The Trump Administration took office on January 20, 2017. It appears to have immediately started to plan to separate children from their parents when both crossed the U.S. border without permission (i.e. not at an official border crossing).
February 17, 2017– An interagency meeting was held to discuss a plan.
Reuters reported on March 3 that such a plan was under consideration, other news outlets also reported on the plan.
On March 29, 2017 Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly denied that the administration was planning to separate children from parents. His statement was part of a program of deception which lasted for months after the plan was implemented.
Early 2017: Border Patrol agents in El Paso, began a program that involved separating children from parent upon DHS – mandated policy for arrest and detainment of families. The first formal document unearthed for this policy is dated later, July 10. Additional documents indicate that Border Patrol personnel along the length of the border gradually learned about and began to implement the policy.
April 6, 2018 – Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy directing authorities to prosecute all instances of illegal border crossings. On May 7, Sessions announced that the Department of Homeland Security would refer 100% of illegal border crossings to the Department of Justice for prosecution. This expands the policy of separating families. These statements were effectively the first highly visible, non-ambiguous publicized statements made by the Administration on the policy.
June, 2018. Media, church, and political concern explode. The ACLU files a class action suit, which is the basis of the ultimate settlement (see below).
June 20, 2018 – President Trump signed Executive Order 13841 to end family separations at the border. However, the EO does not address reuniting families already separated.
June 26, 2018 – A federal judge ordered that separated children under five years must be reunited with their parents within 14 days, and all children must be reunited by July 26.
February 22, 2021 – the Biden Administration issues Executive Order 14011 establishing a task force to reunite all children not yet reunited.
September 15, 2023 – the Biden task force reports: 4,227 children were separated between spring 2017 and June, 2018. Between then and February 22, 2021, 2,222 or 53% of the children had been reunited. Another 904 were reunited by September. 15, 2023. The remaining 1,101 were on September 15 in process of being reunited or believed to be in the right hands.
October 16, 2023– Biden Administration settles ACLU’s lawsuit. According to the LA Times, people who were separated from their families would qualify for lawful entry, three-year, renewable work permits, and housing, health and legal services benefits. They would be able to apply for asylum regardless of previous denils, and wouldn’t be subject to the usual one year asylum application deadline.