The Trump administration is deliberately taking immigrant children away from their parents. This practice, which has already elicited objections from the United Nations, is being applied when foreign families are either caught crossing the border without documents or if they turn themselves in to seek refugee status.

Many of these children are under the age of 4 and some are infants, according to media reports and rights advocates.

Just like when immigration authorities and border agents encounter children who arrive on their own, kids from families the government splits up initially spend a few days in federally run processing centers that are by all accounts ill-suited for child care. Then they are relocated to approximately 100 federally funded shelters run largely by nonprofit organizations or put into foster care homes supervised by many of the same organizations.

These nonprofits provide unaccompanied children with health care and education. They also help find “sponsors” – usually extended family members – with whom children can be placed while waiting for their cases to be heard. When no sponsors are found, the kids stay in shelters or foster care until their asylum cases are heard, or they are deported.

When I researched this largely hidden aspect of immigration policy, I found little evidence that this patchwork system can absorb what promises to be an influx of thousands more children, many requiring round-the-clock attention. And I have no doubt that forcibly separating kids from their families is completely impractical and bound to make a bad situation worse.

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