The other day, I read a New York Times piece that detailed one mother’s journey with her eight-year-old son from Guatemala to the United States, where they were detained and she was deported. Her son remains in the country, one of more than 2,000 children who have been separated from their parents as the result of a stricter border policy.
The story was gut-wrenching, and I became completely overcome when the mother described how she was given tranquilizers after landing back in Guatemala because she was so hysterical. At the time of the article’s publication, her son had no idea that his mother was not being held in a U.S. facility.
When I tried to research more about the policy that has been separating parents from children, I found myself getting more and more confused. There was Attorney General Jeff Sessions, giving a harsh speech about “zero tolerance,” but then there was Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security, saying that there was no such policy. There was President Donald Trump saying that the policy was the result of the Democrats, and yet there was reports that Stephen Miller, the president’s chief advisor, was responsible for drafting the policy.
It was confusing on purpose, because if people cannot get a clear answer on why something is happening, they tend to stop asking. For a few days, that was me – policy is confusing enough without the addition of fake news and blame-shifting. But the idea of that little boy, and his mother, stuck in my head and forced to research it more.
Here’s what I found, using Snopes.com, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Fox News.
In 1997, the Flores Settlement Agreement was created after 12 years of litigation that centered on what to do with children who illegally immigrate. The Flores Agreement stipulated that you cannot hold a minor for more than 20 days before releasing them to family, shelters, foster care systems or sponsors. In 2008, President George Bush signed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which requires unaccompanied minors from countries other than Mexico or Canda to be placed with U.S. relatives or the Office of Refugee Resettlement while going through removal proceedings. Neither policy required or stipulated that children be separated from their parents, as Trump claimed.
In April and May of 2018, Attorney General Sessions announced a change in immigration policy to a stance of “zero tolerance” that would prosecute any adult caught trying to enter the United States. That included people seeking asylum, rendering them criminals. Therefore, even if they make it through the court system with their claim of asylum, they would first and foremost have a criminal conviction of illegal immigration. This is a change from previous policy, which demarcated that asylum-seekers go through the proper channels. He also said that children would be separated from their parents. And because children are minors, and thus cannot be charged with a crime, they are not detained with their parents and are thus separated. In an interview with the New York Times, Stephen Miller reiterated the “zero tolerance” policy.
So, there is no federal law that requires children to be separated from their parents, nor is it the fault of the Democrats. The problem, then, seems both bureaucratic and political. The bureaucratic: there are not enough immigration officials to process claims of asylum and issues of illegal immigration. That means that most cases are not dealt with within the 20 days stipulated by the Flores Agreement (most are not even dealt with within a year). In addition to that, the “zero tolerance” policy removes asylum seekers (and restricts the terms of asylum, thus forcing more people to be prosecuted for criminal offenses, seemingly increasing the wait time. Under previous administrations, the gridlock was so bad that some people waited years for their day in court; in the meanwhile, they were released into the country’s interior. That, obviously, is not ideal, but then leads to the question: Why not hire more immigration officials?
According to an article I found on Fox News, Senator Ted Cruz (Republican – Texas) has proposed emergency legislation for just that. His bill would double the number of immigration judges to 750, “mandate that illegal immigrant families be kept together,” and expedite asylum claims within 14 days. According to the New York Times, Trump rejected the proposal on the basis that some of the immigration judges could be corrupt. Other Republicans are working on extending the length of time that minors can be detained, with the (probable) intention of mitigating pressure to separate.
In response to it all, the Trump administration has doubled down.
“Those who criticize the enforcement of our laws have offered only one countermeasure: open borders, the quick release of all illegal alien families and the decision not to enforce our laws,” said Nielsen. “This policy would be disastrous.”
“Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13,” President Trump tweeted. “They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!”
There are roughly one thousand problems with everything going on, but here are a few I’ve boiled down: by separating parents and children, you are causing intense emotional damage and trauma to both parties. You are also putting the impetus on the American foster care system to take care and control of these minors. You are chilling asylum seekers, and overflooding the immigration system with criminal offenses. And most of all, you are treating people like animals. You are not giving them the basic human respect and decency that should be afforded to all people, regardless of what side of the border they exist on. I understand that this is complicated; I understand that this is a result of labyrinthine bureaucracy. But this is your job. If you can’t fix this, then we need to find people who can.
“Change the laws,” Trump has repeatedly cried. But this is not the law; this is the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at work.
There are hundreds of nuances that I’m sure I’ve missed, so if you have anything to enlighten me on (in a respectful and human way) I’d welcome it. Writing this out was as much for me as it was for anyone else, because I needed to find a way to understand it all. I highly recommend checking out Snopes, which is a fact-checking website that provides links to actual policies and breaks tough jargon down into consumable bits, but I also cannot stress the importance of reading across news sites. The Times, the Wall Street Journal and Fox News are the trio that I generally try to read when attempting to understand something.