Stop separating children and parents at the border

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Woman protests the policy that allows federal agents to separate undocumented migrant parents and their children at the border.
Woman protests the policy that allows federal agents to separate undocumented migrant parents and their children at the border. Getty Images

Unconscionable doesn’t capture it. Neither does immoral or un-American.

In describing the Trump administration’s horrendous policy of seizing the young children of Central American migrants crossing into the United States at the Mexican border, we must agree with Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.: The policy is evil, pure and simple.

For President Trump, of course, it’s just politics, the pain, trauma and suffering that his administration is inflicting notwithstanding — to say nothing of the optics.

Separating children from their parents is part of the new “zero tolerance” policy that mandates every adult who crosses the border illegally be held for criminal prosecution. Since children can’t be detained in jails alongside their parents, they are snatched away and sent to detention centers. Before April, border patrol agents could use discretion in deciding each case; a parent with children would probably have received somewhat more favorable treatment.

Not any more.

Crossing the border, indeed, is an illegal act, and there should be a penalty. But not separating parents and children, instead of detaining them together, as had been the case.

The administration is doubling down on its relentless push for a migrant-proof border. Trump is calculating that this, yes, unconscionable policy will give him leverage in congressional negotiations on immigration reform.

On Friday, Trump indicated that he would stand by the policy until Democrats agreed to fund his border wall and impose stricter rules for border enforcement and legal entry. He blames Democrats for a policy that he and his administration must be forced to wholly own.

At an impromptu news gathering at the North Lawn Friday, Trump said he, too, “hates” separating parents and children. “But the Democrats forced that law upon us,” he told reporters. They did no such thing. And Republicans, themselves, are divided here.

House Republican leaders are offering two immigration measures — a hard-line draft and written legislation billed as a compromise between the moderate and conservative factions of the party. These include “four pillars” the administration wants: guaranteed funding of $25 billion for a wall along the Mexican border; ending the Diversity Visa Program that now offers admission by lottery to 55,000 immigrants each year; and an end to the system of family-based immigration that distributes visas to the spouses, children and siblings of U.S. citizens. In return, Trump offered a path to citizenship for roughly 1.8 million “DREAMers” who came illegally to the United States children.

The wall remains a ridiculous concept, at a time when illegal immigration across has slowed, even as Central Americans continue to make the attempt. And we doubt Trump’s base plans to do the low-wage, high-value jobs many immigrants take on. Nor are they equipped for high-skilled technical positions available.

Friday, too, the government announced that 2,000 children had been placed in detention during a six-week period. New centers in Texas will open in the next few days. The psychological trauma being inflicted on the children, and their parents, is undeniable.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had the gall to cite the Bible as justification for separating families. This is not an issue of religion, but of, yes, law and the long-held American value of human decency. The Trump administration is playing dangerously to its anti-immigrant and racist base in attempting to build a biblical foundation.

All Americans of compassion and decency, in Congress and across the nation, must stand as one and declare that this policy cannot stand. It’s evil, pure and simple.