Kids Are Still In Cages: And The Law Has Nothing To Do With It

Kids Are Still In Cages: And The Law Has Nothing To Do With It July 9, 2018

In the current political climate, there are many things about which we can ‘agree to disagree.’ It is critical to the future of civilization that we remember how to do that. The plastic straw thing, for instance. Or the confounding popularity of “the floss.” Or whether kids should have screen time limits when it’s 100 damn degrees in the shade. On these things, we can all have our own opinions. The whole American dream/democracy situation was to allow for a diversity of ideas and viewpoints at the table.

But separating families at the border and detaining children in conditions that border on barbaric? There is no gray area, and no room for debate. This isn’t a right/left issue–it is a right/wrong issue.

Two weeks ago, a Federal Judge ordered an end to separating families at the border. But the process of reunification is slow-going. There is no coherent plan in place, and the government has literally lost track of some children’s parents. Meanwhile, the kids still in detainment are not being well cared for. It is important that we keep this in front of us. And more importantly, keep it in front of the people who keep saying that Trump is just “enforcing the law.”

This has never been about the law.

First of all, it is perfectly legal to seek asylum in the United States, which is what many of these families are doing. Also, even those entering illegally are only committing a misdemeanor. In so many of these cases, the punishment definitely does not fit the crime.

Immigration attorney Matthew Hoppock is a member of my congregation, and I asked him if “the law” actually merits this type of enforcement. He says: “No law says he has to lock up kids. When kids cross the border unaccompanied, the Flores Settlement agreement that says he has to release them to family in the US, if they have any, within 20 days. For over 20 years they’ve been doing that with very few problems.”

“For the kids who enter with their parents, Trump created a “no tolerance” policy of prosecuting the parents for low-level misdemeanors specifically so he could take away their kids, and then use them to coerce bona fife refugees to give up and leave. They return home (sometimes to conditions that may be certain death) just to get their kids back. It’s nothing short of kidnapping, child abuse, and extortion. This practice has been widely condemned by everyone from the pope to the UN, to politicians from both parties.”
My other question was, why start these detainment practices now, if the law hasn’t changed?
“They didn’t prosecute this type of illegal entry before because federal prosecutors have too many other more-important cases to prosecute. Transporting firecrackers across state lines is a more serious crime than this. The U.S. Government only chose to start prosecuting this crime so they could take the kids away. That was the goal. And it’s evil… For some of these kids they didn’t keep track of who their parents are. Some of their parents have already been deported. There are a few in Topeka who have parents in the US but they won’t release them until they’ve completed DNA testing–which many think is a stall tactic.” 

I am grateful for Matthew’s legal expertise in understanding all of this, because we need to start unwinding the “law and order” argument in defense of these appalling practices. Once you see that the law has nothing to do with it, there’s nothing left but to acknowledge that this administration is cruel, racist, and without conscience.

Just read this horrifying report from PBS News. This is not liberal alarmism, it is a humanitarian crisis. Other world leaders recognize it as such, as do many high profile religious leaders, both at home and abroad. Read accounts from inside of these detention centers–essentially warehouses–and remember that these are children who have committed no crime: “[The children] did not have shoes or blankets in the detention center, and there were people in the cells that had to sleep standing up. They did not have enough to eat either, and could not drink the water, because of the chlorine they added to it … the incarcerated children were insulted – called named such as “animals” and “donkeys.” 

We need to keep this in front of us, and in front of our churches and communities.  We need to stay angry and loud, because there are those who want to flat out deny this is happening. To those folks, I’ll just say: let me direct you to the days Japanese internment camps in America. That abomination was similarly enabled by a citizen base that *sort of* knew it was happening but didn’t want to overthink the details or the human implications.

They were just enforcing the law, after all. They were just “trying to keep us safe.” I’ll remind us that history doesn’t look kindly on those who think public safety relies on locking up children.

So yes, stay angry. But more important: get active.

Now that you know some of the legal ins and outs of this issue, you know what to say the next time your racist uncle insists that “Trump is just enforcing the law!” You may never convince him otherwise, but you can still call B.S. and know that you’re right.

Also, as always, call your Representatives. Some of them are more involved in immigration policy making than others, but call and voice your outrage anyway. Especially if you are in the Kansas 3rd, because Kevin Yoder, though usually a strong Trump supporter, claims to be advocating for reunification and working for solutions. We’ll see… but call him up!

Wherever you are, vote in your local primaries, some of which are SOON. Do some homework across party lines to see where candidates stand on immigration policy and reform.

Also, if you’re connected with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), know that our Refugee and Immigration Ministries has funds available to send faith leaders to rallies and demonstrations happening in various locations.

You can follow my friends at Saguaro Christian Church in Tucson, who are leading a 30-day online prayer vigil. (They’re on day 23, but it’s never too late to pray).

And then, send this video to every lawyer you know. People with legal expertise and a few days to volunteer can make a BIG difference in these situations where families don’t know their rights, or where (fix it, Jesus) toddlers are being sent into courtrooms alone.

None of these things will put an end to the crisis, but if enough of us do small things, it will be at least a step toward maintaining our collective humanity. Stay mad, and stay on this. It’s not about the law. And even if it was? Sometimes the law itself is criminal.

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