Border Patrol Separated 4-Month-Old Baby From Father in Texas Months Before New Policy: Immigration Group

U.S. Border Patrol agents separated a 4-month-old baby from its father months before the Trump administration launched its controversial "zero tolerance" policy of separating families at the U.S. border, a legal services nonprofit has said.

The Texas Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) said a father who entered the U.S. from Mexico with his 4-month-old baby to request asylum was "immediately separated" from his child, with the baby being taken into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 

GettyImages-967850032 Demonstrators protest the Trump administration policy that enables federal agents to separate undocumented migrant children from their parents at the border in Chicago, on June 5. The Texas Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services says U.S. Border Patrol separated a 4-month-old baby from its family. Scott Olson/Getty

The father taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody was transported to a detention center in Texas, where RAICES met with him to provide legal support.

"However, the dad was deported and NOT his child," RAICES said, explaining the situation in a Twitter thread. The "now-8-month-old baby has been in ORR custody for four months," the nonprofit said. 

Since being separated, the father and mother of the child have only been allowed to see their baby over Skype, RAICES said.

"That's right folks. They Skype with an infant," the nonprofit said in a tweet. 

RAICES shared the story in a bid to highlight the "horrific" treatment asylum seekers face at the U.S. border and call for the Trump administration to end family separation. 

The controversial practice has sparked widespread backlash marked by protests after Attorney General Jeff Sessions first announced last month that the Trump administration would be enforcing a "zero tolerance" policy seeing anyone caught crossing into the U.S. illegally referred for federal prosecution and enforcing the separation of families at the border, with parents taken into custody at a federal jail, while their children are taken into custody of the HHS. 

The United Nations has called on the U.S. to halt the practice, condemning the Trump administration's policy as a "serious violation of the rights of the child." 

"What's happening at the border is horrific," RAICES said, calling on U.S. residents to "find an immigrant rights group in your city and volunteer." 

Expressing her shock at RAICES' account, Paola Mendoza, a film director and co-author of Together We Rise, a book on the Women's March on Washington, wrote on Twitter: "This is the youngest child I have heard of being taken from their parents."

"A 4-month-old baby ripped away from his father! Words are insufficient to describe the horror that is happening in our country," Mendoza wrote, adding: "Silence = complicity."

In a statement emailed to Newsweek the HHS said it could not comment on specific cases as a "matter of policy in order to protect the privacy and security of the unaccompanied alien children (UAC) referred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services."

The department said the ORR is legally required to accept placement for any child meeting the definition of a "unaccompanied alien child."

It asserted that the HHS plays no role in the apprehension or initial detention of children. 

Newsweek has contacted the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency and ICE for comment.

This story has been updated with a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services.