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Column: An end to the evil of separation

Posted: June 21, 2018 2:44 p.m.
Updated: June 22, 2018 1:00 a.m.

On the surface, President Trump blinked.

Wednesday, he signed an executive order ending his administration’s action of separating families at our border with Mexico as part of what has been called a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.

It ends something I consider evil. I believe it was evil for our government to separate children from their parents just because their parents crossed the border into our country illegally.

How we choose to deal with illegal immigration partially defines who we are as a people, as a society.

The fact that Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen confirmed Monday that our government has taken more than 2,300 children away from their parents after crossing the border illegally did not make me feel good. In fact, it angered me greatly, and it should have angered you, too.

But, let’s see if we can put some logic into the heat on this subject.

During her portion of a press briefing on Monday, Nielsen kept claiming -- as President Trump had -- that the policy of separating children from their parents at the border was something to blame on Democrats and that could only be fixed by Congress. She also claimed that both the Obama and the preceding Bush administration had policies regarding family separation.

Snopes.com, which has a great reputation for rooting out the truth about lots of things, marked the claim that there was a law to separate families before April of this year as patently false.

There is no and never has been a federal law requiring children to be separated from their parents at our borders. Snopes squarely put this on the Trump administration: “An increase in child detainees separated from parents stemmed directly from a change in enforcement policy repeatedly announced by [U.S. Attorney General Jeff] Sessions in April and May 2018, under which adults (with or without children) are criminally prosecuted for attempting to enter the United States.”

That’s the “zero-tolerance” policy. Before, we had “a long-standing policy of charging most of those crossing for the first time with a misdemeanor offense,” if at all from a criminal standpoint.

Nielsen and Trump referred to loopholes in immigration law that, according to a Homeland Security statement in February, can be “exploited by minors, families and human smugglers” -- loopholes reportedly created through a 1997 legal settlement and a 2008 anti-trafficking law.

According to a 2016 ruling on what is known as the 1997 Flores Settlement, the Department of Homeland Security can “detain unaccompanied children captured at the border for only 20 days before releasing them to foster families, shelters or sponsors, pending resolution of their immigration cases. The settlement was later expanded to include both unaccompanied and accompanied children,” as explained on Snopes’ website.

The 2008 law “requires unaccompanied minors from countries other than Mexico or Canada to be placed in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, or relatives in the U.S., while they go through removal proceedings.”

But, as Snopes points out, neither the 1997 settlement nor the 2008 law required any administration to “break up families.”

Furthermore, it appears that the president’s order Wednesday could end up violating the Flores Settlement.
In fact, the result could end being just as evil as separation.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operates two large detention centers for illegal immigrant families that are nearly full. As The Washington Post reported, “ICE would potentially need to place children in its much larger network of immigration jails for adults.” That, the Post said, would likely violate Flores, which not only places the 20-day restriction on holding kids, but orders them to be placed in the “least-restrictive setting possible.”

The Post reported it received indications this is exactly what the administration wanted: a showdown on the Flores Settlement, which anti-immigrationers detest, if not rallying support for GOP-sponsored bills on immigration.

Again, there was no actual law needing to be fixed for the Trump administration to stop what it was doing and start getting these children back with their parents as quickly as possible. Trump could have made that choice at any time. In fact, he didn’t have to start the policy at all.

These children have been traumatized in ways we may never understand. These policies are evil ones, and the world knows it. We know it. We feel it strongly in our hearts, and logically know separation was based on lies and laced with -- incontrovertibly shown on Wednesday -- political posturing.

Directing our anger is simple: Vote in November for people who know these policies are evil and will make who sure they never happen again. This should include Republicans who can move the party back to center.

In the meantime, speak up, write letters, post on social media -- keep putting all the pressure we can on the administration to stop all manner of persecution it is guilty of through its words and deeds.

And remind everyone that Americans, as a whole, are not evil.

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