Separated...will give you a sense of how the United States, a country that prides itself on its constitutional protections, also possesses a body of immigration laws that can be weaponized by an executive branch willing to do it ... Separated is structured chronologically, with the narrative of Soboroff’s own discovery of what was happening presented incrementally, highlighting the secrecy and 'extraordinary confusion' of the process—and how removed even a journalist like Soboroff was from what was happening on the ground ... The subtitle of Separated is Inside an American Tragedy, but what Soboroff memorably depicts isn’t just tragic but brutal.
The book takes the form of a reporter’s memoir, and operates on one level as a chronicle of how 21st-century journalism works ... Soboroff’s personal recollections add relevant context, but at other moments they seem extraneous ... Such anecdotes, however, are merely the book’s scaffolding. It is built from a thorough account of how such a cruel policy came to be and how it traumatized hundreds of children and their families ... Soboroff...[provides] faces and names to those seeking asylum in the U.S., people often dehumanized by right-wing media and leadership as criminals or invaders. It’s an effective way to bring the broader story home ... The kind of history one might expect from a book about the family separation crisis is plentiful here as well. Using a straightforward chronological structure and a raft of discovered official documents, Soboroff reveals what happened behind the scenes in Washington to enact the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy. To his credit, Soboroff does not spare the Clinton and Obama administrations ... the story is not only one of villainy. Unsung heroes emerge, too ... Separated takes a well-deserved place among the multiple accounts of the Trump administration’s machinations as one journalist’s up-close view of an extremely painful moment in the nation’s history. The book is less interesting as a memoir than as a reminder of the immorality of a government that intentionally caused the suffering of young children and toddlers to coerce asylum seekers to abandon their claims.
Soboroff zooms in on President Trump and his administration’s decision to separate children from their parents as a deterrent to border crossers. In doing so, he illuminates how, in the face of congressional inaction, a cadre of presidential advisers can introduce policies with shocking, unintended consequences ... With the immediacy of cable news, Soboroff attempts to reconstruct the quiet run-up to the public acknowledgment of the policy, including one official’s efforts to destroy the internal list of separated parents and children. He interweaves this reporting with his own on-the-ground work as one of the first journalists to enter detention facilities holding the separated children ... Soboroff, who acknowledges that he came to the story late, offers generous recognition to fellow journalists and the advocates who saw the looming crisis well before he did — though an index and detailed endnotes would have made it easier to keep track of their findings and given the book a heftier feel. Ultimately, the reporter is the protagonist, providing the book’s strength and emotional core, but also at times making it seem overly self-referential.