CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV/AP) - Nearly 2,000 minors have been separated from their families at the U.S. border over a six-week period during a crackdown on illegal entries, according to Department of Homeland Security figures obtained by The Associated Press.
The figures show that 1,995 minors were separated from 1,940 adults from April 19 through May 31. The separations were not broken down by age, and they included separations for illegal entry, immigration violations or possible criminal conduct by the adult.
Under a "zero tolerance" policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security officials are now referring all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. U.S. protocol prohibits detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.
Sessions announced the effort April 6, and Homeland Security began stepping up referrals in early May, effectively putting the policy into action.
Manuel Betancur started a successful Central Avenue bakery in Charlotte in 1997, but 21 years later the landscape has clearly shifted. He finds his customers are feeling a level of fear.
"There's a lot of fear in the community. There's a lot of fear for me as a business owner," he said. "Ninety percent of my customers are from the immigrant community, are Latinos. They leave, what am I going to do? Close the doors - and that's it."
Images of immigrants and their families being detained tugs at the heartstrings, and some who call east Charlotte home are noticing what could be called a "cold shoulder."
Fifty years ago, Yolanda Garcia came to the states from Guatemala. For the last two decades, she's operated a string of businesses on Central Avenue. Her hair salon and barbershop employs upwards of 16 legal residents, but like so many others along the strip, she's aware of those with questionable status.
"Oh yes, I knew a few. I know a lot. Yes," she said.
Yolanda's advice is to "Keep fighting."
Back at the bakery, Manuel Batancur has a different kind of fight. His products are delivered to three states, but he's concerned about getting his goods to market.
"It's so hard to find employees right now," he said.
The new figures are for people who tried to enter the U.S. between official border crossings. Asylum-seekers who go directly to official crossings are not separated from their families, except in specific circumstances, such as if officials can't confirm the relationship between the minors and adults, if the safety of the children is in question, or if the adult is being prosecuted.
There were an additional 38 minors separated at ports of entry in May through June 6. There were more than 55 in April and a high of 64 in March, according to the figures.