But history shows policies like this have been implemented time and time again since the nation began.
In fact, the US has a long history of separating children from their parents. Government policies forced apart the families of enslaved Africans, Native Americans and Mexican immigrants, and detained Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Splitting up slave families
Enslaved parents lived with the constant fear of being separated from their children.
Slave owners could split up families for any number of reasons -- including selling slaves to pay off debts, dividing families to create equal inheritance or as punishment.
Heather Williams, a professor of Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said the emotional reports of parents and children separated at the US-Mexico border echo the pain and anguish enslaved parents went through.
Williams recalled accounts of mothers begging slave traders to let them keep their children. She described an instance in which an enslaved child who had been separated from his parents would not stop crying, much like the eight-minute audio of the sobbing immigrant children
"When I hear the voices of those children, it absolutely resonates because that's how I imagine it was with the people that I study," Williams said.