No, I am not a proponent of unnecessarily separating children from their parents.
At the same time, those who claim this is just as bad as what the Nazis did, because they “took children for baths,” are showing either profound ignorance or indifference to the truth in the way in which they trivialize the Holocaust — there is a difference between separating children and parents, and murdering one or the other.
And I am further not happy with the additional dishonesty that’s going on here, when people act as if there’s a simple solution, a reasonable and appropriate status quo ante.
After all, the status quo ante was the handing-out of court dates at some distant point in the future, whenever would-be immigrants arrived with children in tow. The numbers of individuals claiming fear of persecution has escalated to the point where it’s believed they’re being coached in saying so-called “magic words” to pass a credible fear interview. (Here’s some background from the Washington Post, which gives Jeff Sessions three Pinnochios for saying that immigration lawyers were coaching claimants, but concedes that others such as coyotes may be doing so.) Reportedly, substantial numbers of asylum-claimants simply don’t show up for further hearings because they are aware that they won’t succeed in their claims and are better off simply living their lives with false IDs or working under the table.
Alternatively, we’re told that we should simply welcome such people into the United States, taking it on faith that whatever hardships they’ve experienced mean that they are deserving of legal residency. Folks, the hard truth is that if we granted legal residency to everyone with a story of hardship, our country would be overwhelmed with the number of immigrants we’d have. We simply can’t make this our determinant, however much we may have had open borders in the 1800s, in a time when greenhorn immigrants, mom, dad, and kids, would find a job in the nearest sweatshop.
Could we just allow families to stay in family shelters until it’s their turn to have their case processed? Not according to the Flores settlement, which was what produced the practice of so-called “catch and release” in the first place. Could we switch to ankle monitors? They’re the subject of complaints as well, e.g., at the Texas Observer, and at the same time, they are no sure guarantee. Why not just trust that they’ll return? Because in our immigration system, the ease with which immigrants can get false IDs or work under the table, means that they have essentially no reason to continue cooperating if they have reason to believe their case won’t be decided in their favor.
Technically, all these families are seeking asylum, and because they’re family units travelling with minors, ICE releases them after a day or two with orders to appear at an asylum hearing in whatever part of the country they’re trying to get to. (That’s not the case in some sectors, where parents are reportedly separated from their children on purpose.) The adults are fitted with electronic ankle monitors, which will confine them to a 75-mile radius of wherever they tell ICE is their final destination. But once they get where they’re going, most of them cut the thing off and throw it away. Many do not even bother showing up at their asylum hearings for the simple reason that they have no legitimate claims to asylum. Yes, they come from impoverished countries with a decaying social order. And yes, these places are violent. But most of these people simply come to the United States to work, and you don’t get asylum for that.
What is the answer? Maybe it’s an undoing of the Flores settlement, so that family units stay together in detention centers, with expedited asylum hearings (the process has switched to a “last in first out” approach in order to try to speed the claims). Certainly it’s a recognition that ordinary crime victims don’t fall under asylum law, no matter the situation in their home countries.
But the bigger challenge is our collective failure to prevent the use of false IDs or working under the table, which simply makes it far too routine for immigrants to stay without any real fear of consequences.
And it’s the fact that there are too many politicians and pundits and activists and journalists who are perfectly OK with illegal immigration as a de facto means of offering open borders to anyone who’s willing to accept difficult working and living conditions for an unknown period of time. Sure, they’ll complain that Walmart workers are paid little enough that single parents use food stamps, Medicaid, school lunches, etc., because Walmarts are kind of icky stores anyway and those workers are native-born Americans, but they’re not particiularly interested in questioning how little their own landscape company or housecleaning service pays its workers or how dependent they are on the forms of welfare that their U.S. born children are eligible for, nor are they willing to accept eating frozen produce instead of fresh arugula year-round harvested by workers whose praises they sing because they accept lousy working conditions where American workers would demand better.
So, again, let’s not separate families. But I’d really like to hear of an alternative that’s not simply opening our borders.
Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A100203houston_lg.jpg; By U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), www.ice.gov. Please credit by saying “Photo Courtesy of ICE”. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons