Just the Facts

According to the Department of Homeland Security, 1,995 children were separated from adults from April 15th until the end of May 2018. This is in sharp contrast to historical figures: from October 2016 to February 2018, 1,800 children were separated from their families“US/Mexico border family separations” has become a widely debated and emotionally charged topic that has garnered significant attention by the media and on social media.  

Search results for “Border Families” on Spectrum Report.


Emotional sentiment analysis of articles under “Border Families” search results on Spectrum Report.


Narratives on the Left

The narrative on the left is primarily revolving around the emotional impact of these regulations on the illegal immigrants, especially the children. The left is also highlighting prominent organizations and conservative figures who are against the family separation procedures. This narrative has turned into talk of congressional action against the administration, such as the proposal of a bill by Feinstein to prohibit family separations.

Headlines are focusing on new immigration branding “Zero tolerance immigration” as a choice to separate families by the Trump administration’s approach to immigration, and how it is being used as political leverage to pass a conservative immigration agenda. Organizations and companies are calling for an end to the policy are highlighted. The narratives also include accusations of hypocrisy on the right for claiming compassionate “Christian values” while breaking apart families and treating immigrants as inferior.  The emotional sentiment on the left is predominantly showing sadness and disgust as well as fear and anger.

A sampling of articles from left-leaning sources. Click the image to see more.


Narratives on the Right

The narrative on the right is focusing on the historical policies of detaining families that cross the US/Mexico border illegally, and the perceived choice of immigrant parents to endanger their children by making the trip to cross the border. Another narrative is that the policy was already under in place under the Obama administration, but that the left is hypocritically ignoring this in their eyes. An emerging narrative is that the US cares more about taking care of immigrants than veterans and American workers, and that conditions at the detention centers are being exaggerated by the left to score political points against Trump. 










Many conservative headlines are focusing on leftist pundits or political figures who are attacking the family separation immigration procedure. This press recounts their opinions and actions, and questions the validity of their statements. The narrative is focused on keeping up with the headlines spearheaded by the left and highlighting opinions, actions or facts.

Several conservative news outlets have shown negative content against the administration on the issue. Several others have highlighted one republican congressman who is against administration’s policy. This congressman still highlights the need for a firm stand on immigration, and the improvement in the move away from catch-and-release policies (seen as ineffective in keeping the border secure). The emotional sentiment on the right is similar to the left, showing high degrees of sadness and disgust as well as fear and anger.

A sampling of articles from right-leaning sources. Click the image to see more.


Fact Checking the Narratives

An initial meme circulated on social media showing a boy crying in a cage, attributed to Trump’s policies. This image was traced back to a 2014 protest.  Detention facilities do use fencing to detain some people, but dorm-style housing is also provided to children, with criticisms focusing on overcrowding. 

There is no current law in effect which mandates the separation of families. However, the Trump Administration has introduced a “zero-tolerance” policy which calls for the prosecution of people who enter the US illegally.  One of the effects is to separate parents from their children when they enter the country together. Parents are referred to prosecution and children are placed in the custody of a sponsor, or held in a shelter. Children were separated from adults in the past, but previous administrations have not enforced policy as much before, and there has been a recent spike in detentions, after the ‘zero tolerance’ policy was passed. 

Select fact checks from PolitiFact search for “Border Families”.



In 1997,  the Flores Settlement law was signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton and required unaccompanied minors who arrive in the US to be released to their parents, a legal guardian or an adult relative, If no relatives are available then the relevant government agency can appoint an appropriate adult to look after the child.

And in 2008, Republican President George W. Bush signed an anti-trafficking statute that requires unaccompanied minors to be transferred out of immigration centers within 72 hours.

The issue of this policy being a “deterrence” is similar to issues the Obama Administration had in 2015 when the judicial system blocked his plans to detain Central American immigrant mothers and children without bond to deter others from crossing the border. This issue was raised after a surge of unaccompanied minors were caught at the US Mexico Border. However “unaccompanied minors” are generally young adults migrating to support their families in their home country, not forcibly separated at the border. 

A report from Mother Jones in 2014, using data from the US Customs and Border Patrol, showing a sharp rise of unaccompanied minors “caught” at the US border.


The Trump administration argues that prosecution is not new policy or law. And it has not overtly stated these detention centers are a deterrence. However, separations have increased under the ‘zero tolerance’ policy. Trump later signed an executive order reversing the policy to separate children from families, stating that they could be detained together. 

Update: Narratives are emerging around costs of housing immigrants compared to potential spending on American citizens (and combatting homelessness) on the right, and the continuation of what is considered unjust detention and treatment of immigrants on the left.

Snopes fact check of 10,000 unaccompanied children in US detention centers.

Fact Checking Resources:

What do you think? Please let us know about other narratives you’re seeing in the comments below.