Since October, more than 700 minor children have been separated from their parents at the border. More than 100 have been under 4 years old.
Some, like an 18-month-old Honduran boy torn from his mother in February, are just toddlers.
“The immigration officers made me walk out with my son to a government vehicle and place my son in a car seat in the vehicle. My son was crying as I put him in the seat,” the boy’s mother said in a sworn statement. “I did not even have a chance to try to comfort my son, because the officers slammed the door shut as soon as he was in his seat. I was crying, too. I cry even now when I think about that moment when the border officers took my son away.”
This mom was not trying to “sneak across” the border, by the way. She had crossed an international bridge into Brownsville, Tex., and presented herself to immigration authorities to request asylum from political violence.
Instead of receiving refuge, she lost her child. It was months before they were reunited.
Such stories are enraging and shameful. They also put the lie to sacred principles that Republican politicians have long claimed to stand for, chiefly: family values and rule of law.
For decades, Republicans have championed traditional family values and having parents, rather than the state, take responsibility for their children.
This Republican administration’s inhumane treatment of helpless children — who are ripped from their mothers’ arms, detained in human warehouses and drop-kicked into “foster care or whatever” — reveals such rhetoric to have been a scam.
The Trump administration’s goal is to inflict pain upon these families. Cruelty is not an unfortunate, unintended consequence of White House immigration policy; it is the objective.
After all, if forced separations are sufficiently agonizing, fewer families will try to come here, no matter how dangerous their home countries are. Administration members have argued as much.
Last year, then-Homeland Security secretary John F. Kelly acknowledged he was considering separating children from their parents at the border “to deter” potential border-crossers. Again this month, he said “a big name of the game is deterrence.”
This vile and unpopular policy has been roundly condemned, including by prominent conservatives. So President Trump did what he always does when facing backlash for using children (remember the “dreamers” and children’s health insurance?) as a bargaining chip: Blame the Dems.
“Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents once they cross the Border into the U.S.,” Trump tweeted Saturday.
Got that? Our law-and-order-obsessed president is merely enforcing an evil Democratic law!
There is, however, no statute — supported by Democrats or otherwise — that requires immigrant families to be torn apart.
The most cogent possible point Trump could have been making is one that other Republicans have made: that crossing the border unlawfully is a crime. If you prosecute every border crossing criminally — as Trump’s administration says it now does, even for asylum seekers — that means parents will go to jail.
And as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen put it, when parents go to jail, whether for unlawful entry or another crime, that requires separating them from their children.
Which is true, to a point; prisons generally can’t house children.
But here’s the part Trump apologists neglect to mention: The government is keeping immigrant families forcibly separated even after criminal proceedings are over and the parents get released from jail.
Take the case of a Brazilian family that also crossed the border to seek asylum.
The mother, named in court documents as “Ms. C.,” was prosecuted for entering the country illegally in August 2017, a misdemeanor for which she spent 25 days in jail. Her 14-year-old son was sent to a facility in Chicago.
After she was released, she passed a “credible fear interview” and began the process of applying for asylum. She was sent first to an immigration detention center, then released to a nonprofit shelter in El Paso. This shelter is willing to take in her son.
But the government still refuses to release him. She has been out of detention for five weeks and still hasn’t been allowed to see her boy.
“What they’re really basically saying is that these people don’t have a due-process right to remain with their child,” says American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project Deputy Director Lee Gelernt, who is representing Ms. C. and other asylum-seeking immigrants challenging Trump’s family separation policy. The Constitution, of course, guarantees due process for all, regardless of immigration status.
Cruelty and unconstitutionality: the platform of today’s Republican Party.