President Trump’s “zero-tolerance” family separation policy at the border has caused concern and repulsion for many while irreparably harming the lives of those affected. In a political climate that often seems saturated with turmoil and confusion, it is important to remember that these policies have real and significant impacts.
Starting in April on the orders of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the US government began a policy of separation at the border for families illegally entering the country with children. While the total number of separated children over the duration of this policy is unclear, the Border Patrol reports that from May 5-June 9, 2,342 children were separated but we can assume that the total number is significantly higher. And though the Department of Homeland Security claims that separation only would occur in cases of illegal border crossings, reports claim that this still occurred in instances where migrants requested asylum. After significant public backlash that this policy was in line with those of oppressive regimes like Nazi Germany and our own troubled history with Japanese internment, President Trump ordered an executive order reversing the protocol for separation and instead will now detain the entire family together for a theoretically unlimited period of time until the parents’ cases are processed.
Now that the old policy has been replaced we have to ask: what now? The first concern is reuniting the children that have already been separated from their parents. Unsurprisingly, this is no easy task since the Trump administration has no direct system in place to solve the issue. ICE and the Office of Refugee Resettlement have offered 1-800 numbers to try and reunify these families but many of the parents being detained have little-to-no access to a telephone that they could use to try and find their children.
And even when a child is returned to parental custody the ORR and Department of Homeland Security has made it their policy to take fingerprints and run background checks of all adults in the household children are returned to. This drastically decreases the chances of children getting sponsored over concerns that those in the household will be detained and deported if they don’t have proper documentation.
The next question is: what is the legality of Trump’s new detainment policy? A 2015 court order based on the 1997 Flores Settlement ruled that children could not be detained for more than 20 days. Trump’s new executive order directly opposes that ruling as children will now be held together with their parents through their prosecution, which can be a much longer process.
This is immigration action is part of a broader watershed moment for our country. We must decide whether or not we are willing to stand up against an administration that constantly ignores the rule of law at the cost of literally taking children from their mothers and fathers’ arms. For those of you that are parents like myself, I ask that you ask your government officials to treat others with humanity regardless of their country of origin.