“Childhood Trauma Means a Century of Suffering”

In ‘Separated: Inside an American Tragedy,’ Jacob Soboroff lays out one of the darkest chapters in this nation’s history

Andrea González-Ramírez
GEN
Published in
11 min readJul 23, 2020

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Photo illustration, source: Guillermo Arias/Getty Images

On June 13, 2018, NBC News correspondent Jacob Soboroff became one of the first reporters to step into a shelter where more than 1,000 migrant children were detained, many after being forcefully separated from their families. “This place is called a shelter but these kids are incarcerated,” Soboroff said in a Twitter thread that went viral overnight.

That night would mark the start of Soboroff’s journey as he tried to report why, and more importantly how, the Trump administration systematically tore apart migrant families in an attempt to deter others from coming into the United States. In his new book, Separated: Inside an American Tragedy, Soboroff pieces together how this shameful policy came to be, its disastrous implementation, and the inevitable fallout when the government found itself struggling to reunite thousands of families.

Soboroff spoke with GEN about his extensive reporting and why families are still being separated today.

GEN: Why did you write Separated?

Jacob Soboroff: I saw this take place in real time. I went into that former Walmart where they were holding 1,500 migrant boys. They were let outside two hours a day. It reminded me more of a prison than a shelter. I went into the epicenter in McAllen, Texas, and I saw children kept in cages after being separated from their parents.

I covered the story extensively for almost a year. I followed it religiously, obsessively. I would check regularly how many children had been reunited. Once I had a little bit of distance, I realized there was so much I didn’t know about how we got there, how this could have happened, how the government could have perpetrated this act of torture — in the words of Physicians for Human Rights — on thousands and thousands of children.

What about the system allowed this to happen? Who was behind it? What was this like for families? We all went through this concurrently at the same time: the officials, the families who were separated, and then myself as a reporter. I felt in aligning everybody’s…

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Andrea González-Ramírez
GEN
Writer for

Award-winning Puerto Rican journalist. Senior Writer at New York Magazine’s The Cut. Formerly GEN, Refinery29, and more. Read my work: https://www.thecut.com/