The big topic of conversation this week appears to be the separation of children from parents who enter the country looking for asylum. Nobody likes it. Donald Trump blames the Democrats, and Democrats blame Donald Trump. While there are rules (PDF) from 2002, about how to handle “unaccompanied” children, there is apparently no law of any kind to deal with children who enter with their parents. The Administration seems to be saying that children are not “arrested,” but parents are, so at that point, the children become “unaccompanied,” thereby allowing the government to separate the families.
Politifact says there is no law that requires the separation of families.
Before the Trump administration, immigrants entering illegally as families were rarely prosecuted, said Sarah Pierce, an associate policy analyst of the U.S. Immigration Program at the Migration Policy Institute. Instead, immigrants were held in family detention centers until they were sent to appear before an immigration court or deported. . .
Trump said a “horrible law” requires that children be separated from their parents “once they cross the Border into the U.S.”
There is no such law.
An anonymous source at Homeland Security admits that almost 2,000 children have been separated from 1940 adults, just between April 19 and May 31 of this year. Doing the math shows that the numbers work out to almost entirely one child per one parent. And critics say the policy doesn’t work anyway.
One such critic is Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan. He blames the problem on a 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement.
Meanwhile, the Administration has given four rationales for the policy. The 1997 consent agreement Ryan mentioned limited the amount of time a family could be held in detention to 20 days. Our court system seldom moves so quickly, so after three weeks, the family must be released—and, according the Administration, if you take away the child, they’re no longer a “family,” so the mother can be held in one place, and the child can be held somewhere else.
There were three other rationales for the policy.
But the second, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, was unanimously passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush.
The third was a 2001 Supreme Court ruling that ended the practice of indefinite detentions for undocumented immigrants facing deportation whose home countries would not accept them.
And the fourth was generally described as the asylum laws of the U.S., a practice that goes back decades and includes international agreements dating back to the 1950s. The current asylum system in the U.S. was enshrined in the Refugee Act of 1980, which was sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and approved by the GOP-controlled House and Senate.
All five First Ladies have weighed in, with somewhat predictable responses. Melania Trump says it’s an awful policy and Congress should overrule the Administration with a new law. She says we should have a government “with a heart.” Meanwhile, Laura Bush wrote a whole op-ed, condemning the “zero tolerance policy,” calling it, “cruel and immoral.” And, of course, Hillary Clinton tweeted, “Like so many others, I am horrified and heartbroken by what is happening to immigrant kids and families because of this administration’s disastrous policies.”
George W. Bush’s wife was the most expansive comparing the kiddie-camps to the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II:
Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. We also know that this treatment inflicts trauma; interned Japanese have been two times as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease or die prematurely than those who were not interned.
Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation. . . If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place. . .
Recently, Colleen Kraft, who heads the American Academy of Pediatrics, visited a shelter run by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. She reported that while there were beds, toys, crayons, a playground and diaper changes, the people working at the shelter had been instructed not to pick up or touch the children to comfort them. Imagine not being able to pick up a child who is not yet out of diapers.
Business Insider notes that both other First Ladies have also spoken up.
Former first lady Michelle Obama then re-tweeted a link to Bush’s op-ed, adding the message, “Sometimes truth transcends party.”. . .
Rosalynn Carter, the 90 year-old former first lady married to former President Jimmy Carter, put out a statement addressing the separations through her office on Monday afternoon:
“When I was first lady, I worked to call attention to the plight of refugees fleeing Cambodia for Thailand. I visited Thailand and witnessed firsthand the trauma of parents and children separated by circumstances beyond their control,” the statement said. “The practice and policy today of removing children from their parents’ care at our border with Mexico is disgraceful and a shame to our country.”
Ironically, this is a problem on which everyone agrees. . .except Jeff Sessions, who says the Bible allows family separation—although the Catholic News Agency disagrees.
Even Donald Trump abhors the policy of separating families that he put into place. “I hate the children being taken away,” he says. So. . .why doesn’t Trump simply reverse his decision to split families? He says he wants to use the kids as a bargaining chip.
The attempt to gain advantage from a practice the American Academy of Pediatrics describes as causing children “irreparable harm” sets up a high-stakes gambit for Trump, whose political career has long benefited from harsh rhetoric on immigration. . .
“The president has told folks that in lieu of the laws being fixed, he wants to use the enforcement mechanisms that we have,” a White House official said. “The thinking in the building is to force people to the table.”
And, so. . .are Democrats also seeing the kids as a political issue?
Democrats have latched onto the issue and vowed to fight in the court of public opinion, with leaders planning trips to the border to highlight the stories of separated families, already the focus of news media attention. Democratic candidates running for vulnerable Republican seats also have begun to make the harsh treatment of children a centerpiece of their campaigns.
And so it goes. . .