The chaotic effort to reunite migrant families
The Trump administration struggled this week to reunite thousands of children separated from their parents at the border, after officials conceded they had no coordinated system between federal agencies to track and return children scattered around the country in government shelters and foster homes. Citing “a chaotic circumstance of the government’s own making,” a federal judge in California ordered children under 5 to be returned to their parents within 14 days, and children over 5 returned in 30 days or fewer. Approximately 500 children recently held at CBP facilities have been reunited with their parents, but Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday his agency still held 2,047 children—only six fewer than in HHS custody a week ago, and that most could not be reunited with parents who are still in custody. The Texas Civil Rights Project, which represents over 300 parents but has located only two separated children, said “bureaucratic errors” have stymied their efforts. One legal aid lawyer in Texas said, “You wait and wait for no information.”
President Trump doubled down on his anti-immigrant rhetoric, tweeting that Democrats want illegal immigrants to “pour into and infest our Country” and that immigrants who show up at the U.S. border should be immediately deported without due process. At an event where family members of people killed by undocumented immigrants held large photos of the deceased, autographed by the president, Trump again warned that criminals were coming across the border and lamented the lack of media coverage for citizens “permanently separated from their loved ones.”
A second Republican immigration bill went down in flames in Congress this week, losing 121 to 301. The bill, backed by GOP leaders, was an attempt at compromise between the party’s moderates and immigration hawks, and would have provided a path for citizenship to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and $25 billion for border security, including Trump’s wall. The president had sent mixed messages about the bill, first saying they should “stop wasting their time on Immigration” before the midterms, then reversing course and calling for the passage of a “STRONG BUT FAIR” bill to show that “DEMS WANT OPEN BORDERS = CRIME.”
What the editorials said
Clearly, the administration “devoted little thought or effort to reunifying families,” said The Washington Post. That’s hardly a surprise given the president’s callous assertion that Democrats are telling “phony stories of sadness and grief.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions explicitly said that breaking up families was meant to serve as a deterrent, and with the president and top aides providing no transparency or leadership on this issue, the chaos and anguish are unlikely to end soon. Trump deserves credit for “reversing course,” said the Chicago Tribune. But when he reversed the family-separation policy last week, he failed to seize the moment and rally Congress for legislation that would end family separation, strengthen border security, and address the fate of the “dreamers.” While blaming everyone else, Trump did nothing to fix our “dysfunctional system.”
Only Congress can fix our “insane” immigration regime, said the National Review. Right now the system “starkly pits humanitarian concerns against enforcement.” We need legislation to authorize the detention of children for longer than the 20 days mandated by the Flores decree, a “well-intentioned anti-trafficking law” that should be amended to make it easier to deport minors, and more money should be allocated for family space and the hiring of hundreds of judges to “expedite the asylum process.”
What the columnists said
Trump proclaimed his “compassion” in signing the executive order undoing his own directive, said Alex Wagner in TheAtlantic.com, but his feigned concern didn’t last long. He quickly switched to warning that the U.S. “will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of these things we don’t stand for.” Under Trump, the Republican Party has been defined around “white nationalism,” which deems brown-skinned people vermin who want to “infest” our country, and mocks “the wailing screams of innocents.”
Trump claims to want comprehensive immigration reform, but he torpedoed the House Republican bills by tweet, said Amber Phillips in WashingtonPost.com. He actually prefers to ratchet up the “anti-immigrant sentiment” that brings roars of delight from his base. Republicans do not need to devote billions of dollars to incarcerating immigrants and building a border wall, said James Gibney in Bloomberg.com. Border apprehensions in 2017 were less than one-fifth of what they were in 2000. To further cut down on illegal immigration, Congress could simply impose a nationwide E-verify system to discourage border crossers looking to work in the U.S.
Thanks to Trump’s “dehumanizing words,” liberals think that “resisting immigration enforcement is the civil rights struggle of our time,” said W. James Antle III in TheWeek.com. Many on the left want to abolish ICE and “abandon even nominal commitment to immigration enforcement.” But unregulated immigration comes with economic costs and produces cultural backlashes. Americans should not have to choose between the “exaggerated fears” of immigration promoted by Trump and the “happy talk” of Democrats that ignores “inconvenient truths.”
The administration’s reunification process doesn’t apply to parents fighting deportation while waiting for their asylum claims to be processed, said Dara Lind in Vox.com. To get their kids back, those parents must waive their right to asylum, so they can all be deported. To clear up the chaos, it might be necessary to impose greater limits on asylum rights, said Tyler Cowen in Bloomberg.com. “There are hundreds of millions of people in the world with credible asylum claims,” but when asylum is defined too broadly, migrants are encouraged to make dangerous journeys from Central America and have their claims heard at the border. Instead, we should require that their asylum claims be approved before they reach America. Otherwise, thousands will continue to show up, and “the problems will fester.”
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from Getty, AP, Newscom