Content note: mention of family separation, detention, suicide

family of margays separated by frozen spikes. One adult margay is stuck on a withered tree. Ice is creeping up the tree trunk.

In solidarity with the parents who were tricked or coerced into leaving their children behind when they were deported from the U.S. 1,703 children have not be re-united with their families as of Nov. 2021.

In memory of Marco Antonio Muñoz, a Honduran father who was separated from his wife and 3-year-old son after crossing the United States-Mexico border to seek asylum in 2018. Mr Muñoz became distraught after his son was ripped from his arms. Later, Muñoz was found dead in a Texas jail, reportedly by suicide.

Suicidal ideation in detention

Perhaps there are some who would like to think that Muñoz’s death is an exception, an unfortunate case of unusual emotional fragility. But consider accounts of similar emotions shared by other separated families who were eventually reunited to be detained together at the Karnes family detention facility in Texas.

According to a 2020 report by RAICES, University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, RAICES, the St. Mary’s School of Law Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, the Tahirih Justice Center et al:

… Families separated under the Zero Tolerance policy crossed the U.S. southern border in spring of 2018, and were then separated for long periods of time ranging from forty-five days to six months or more…Many families had no idea if, when, or where they would be reunified until it took place…

Some fathers used euphemism to ask if their children would gain freedom if a father killed himself. Many fathers reported contemplating suicide. Multiple children also reported wanting to kill themselves. Multiple fathers who expressed suicidal ideation asked RAICES staff what would happen to their children if “something” happened to the father and he was no longer there.


Erik Castillo, a Guatemalan, was separated from his 12 year old son at the U.S. border in May 2018 and then deported without his son. Months later, he shared his experience with a searcher working for Justice in Motion:

They tricked me. They said they would give him back to me when I was to be deported and they didn’t. I want my son back. They did this to punish me. Those people are awful.

In mountains of Guatemala, searching for parents deported from U.S. without childrenLos Angeles Times, Aug. 31 2018.

As of August 2018, he still had not been reunited with his son. Castillo’s claims of being deceived by immigration officials are not unique. A June 2018 report by the Boston Globe included claims by a number of women that they were told that their children were being taken away for baths, but the children never returned.

In an October 2018 article from The California Report, attorney Erika Pinheiro from Al Otro Lado, whose attorneys recently traveled across El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to meet with dozens of deported parents whose children were still in the U.S., said that many of the parents recounted being coerced or misled into accepting removal after their children were taken from them:

“Essentially they were told that the only way that they could really have contact with their child was to get out of detention,” Pinheiro said. “And the only way to do that was to sign their own removal order.”

Parents Deported Without Their Kids Face Untenable Choice , The California Report, Oct. 10 2018

A good use of our tax dollars?

If a separated parent like Erik Castillo was willing to be deported together with their child, why would ICE continue to detain children after their parent’s deportation instead of letting the family leave the U.S. together?

According to a June 2018 article in the Boston Globe, “If the children’s parents lose their bids to stay in the United States and are deported, it may take weeks or even months for their children to follow them, since they are on separate legal tracks, according to immigration experts. ICE said it wants to connect families so they can be shipped back to their native countries together, if possible.”

It appears that ICE is not living up in its own claims in the case of Castillo and others.

Lengthy detention is costly for the taxpayer. But asylum seekers detained under the Zero Tolerance Policy spent needlessly lengthy periods in detention instead of being released to U.S. relatives and friends who were ready to sponsor them.

97% of [the families detained in Karnes] reported having a sponsor… ICE chose to subject families to indefinite incarceration even though nearly all of them had loved ones waiting to receive them in the United States.

RAICES, University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, RAICES, the St. Mary’s School of Law Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, the Tahirih Justice Center et al. The U.S. Government Kidnapped My Son,” 2020.

Who benefits?

According to a December 2015 report from the American Friends Service Committee,

For-profit prison corporations see enormous financial growth when federal policies they encourage result in heightened criminalization of immigrants… Since 2003, CCA and GEO have spent a combined total of over $32 million lobbying the federal government—including lobbying DHS, which oversees federal contracts for immigration detention centers…

AFSC, How for-profit prison corporations shape immigrant detention and deportation policies | American Friends Service Committee (

 The Globe Post reported in Aug. 2019:

According to USA Spending, … ICE has awarded over $480 million in federal funds to GEO and over $331 million to CoreCivic. 

An analysis from Bloomberg Government found the total fiscal spending in 2018 on immigration detention was $7.4 billion, a $2.1 billion increase since 2014.

CoreCivic and GEO received boosts in total profit of $85 million and $121 million over that period, respectively. 

…the private prison industry has accrued significant political influence by investing heavily in funding the campaigns of candidates from both sides of the aisle… The private prison industry has also devoted significant resources towards state and federal lobbying efforts.

Nickel, Dana, Who Profits From Migrant Detention in the US? The Globe Post. Aug. 22, 2019

Some organizations working to reunite families