Families at the Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley Respite Center in McAllen, Texas.Delcia Lopez / for NBC News

by Suzanne Gamboa and Daniella Silva / NBC News/ May.22.2018 / 9:19 AM ET

McALLEN, Texas — Facing dozens of migrants shackled at their waist and ankles, public defender Miguel “Andy” Nogueras asked a question he had rarely asked before last week: Have you been separated from your children?

Last Thursday, a Central American woman was among several in the courthouse here who said yes.

Nogueras asked how old her child is so that he could refer her to one of his attorneys, and the answer haunted him for the rest of the day.

“Five years old,” Nogueras told NBC News. “What kind of scars are we creating? The child has to be asking, where’s my mom? And that kid has to be scared. I can’t even fathom.”

Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a goal to criminally prosecute 100 percent of people crossing the border illegally — including families with children. Those who are charged with improper entry — a misdemeanor on the first infraction — are jailed and separated from their children. Previously, most parents had been allowed to remain with their children in family shelters while awaiting asylum cases or deportation proceedings.

The Trump administration’s willingness to take children from their parents has raised concerns about how far authorities should go to stem unauthorized border crossings and what human cost is acceptable in the name of border security and immigration control.

“There is something terrible happening here that Americans would not support if they understood it,” said F. Scott McCown, director of the Children’s Rights Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

Sessions: ‘If you are smuggling a child, we will prosecute you’

Click on the ‘smuggling’ link above to read the complete article and see Jeff Sessions’ speech.