Separating kids from parents at the border
A surge in the number of migrant children separated from their parents has sparked a furor over the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy on illegal border crossings. The policy was recently announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who warned that all border violators—including those seeking asylum from Central American violence and drug gangs—would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, with their children placed in separate custody as a form of deterrence. “If you don’t like that,” Sessions said, “then don’t smuggle children over our border.” More than 700 minors, including toddlers and babies, were separated from parents at the border from October to April, and another 600 after the “zero tolerance” policy went into effect in May. “I cried. I begged,” one 28-year-old Guatemalan father said after having his 18-month-old son taken from him. When he asked where the boy was, “no one could tell me anything.” In a tweet, President Trump blamed Democrats for a “horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents.” Aides said the president meant that Democrats and the courts had created “loopholes” in immigration law that encouraged border crossings.
The outrage over the separation policy was further stoked by a report that the federal government “lost” 1,475 children who had arrived at the border unaccompanied by a parent. But the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said the report was misleading. It said it had “resettled” 7,635 children with family members or guardians in the U.S., called a month later to check up, and did not get responses from 1,475 guardians, some of whom may fear contact with the federal government. When officials call guardians “and they don’t answer the phone,” said Steven Wagner, an acting assistant secretary at HHS, “you don’t assume that [the children] have been kidnapped.”
What the editorials said
Ripping wailing kids from their parents’ arms is shocking—even for an administration “as heartless as this one,” said the Los Angeles Times. No law requires unauthorized border crossers to be charged with a crime, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly let the mask slip when he admitted that splitting up families “would be a tough deterrent.” Separating parents and kids is a “manifestly inhumane practice” that may inflict lasting trauma on vulnerable kids.
Trump is hardly the first president to come down hard on undocumented immigrants, said The Charlotte Observer. Presidents Bush and Obama each increased the rate of deportations, but both presidents pushed for Congress to pass comprehensive reform legislation that “better recognized the value of all immigrants and the circumstances that brought many to our borders.” Congressional resistance, specifically from Republicans, has “left the country with a convoluted and contradictory immigration system,” now run by a president “whose rhetoric dehumanizes both illegal and legal immigrants.”
What the columnists said
Separating kids and parents is regrettable, said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. But “there is a significant moral cost to not enforcing the border.” The Trump administration is facing a surge in “women, children, and family units from Central America” showing up at the border, asking for asylum. Releasing parents and kids into the U.S. while those asylum requests are adjudicated “is tantamount to allowing the migrants to live here,” since they often just disappear. Kids can’t legally be held for more than 20 days. That’s why this policy is both unfortunate and necessary.
So much for the party of “family values,” said Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post. Make no mistake: “Cruelty is not an unfortunate, unintended consequence of White House immigration policy; it is the objective.” In some cases, the government is keeping migrant families forcibly separated even after court cases are over and parents are released or sent back to their home countries. Why? To inflict pain and deter others from coming.
Even Trump’s supporters should admit that “the process to which illegal migrant parents are subjected is disturbing,” said Noah Rothman in Commentary. It’s dehumanizing to force a young mother wearing a yellow bracelet that identifies her as an illegal immigrant parent watch as government agents drag away her children. This isn’t about the rule of law; it’s something far uglier. “History will remember those who looked away.”
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from Newscom, Media Bakery, Newscom