Unify torn immigrant families right now

Miami Herald Editorial Board

A photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows the interior of a facility in McAllen, Texas where unaccompanied immigrant children are being held.
A photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows the interior of a facility in McAllen, Texas where unaccompanied immigrant children are being held. AP

With the stroke of a pen, President Trump has thrown more gas on an out-of -control fire of his own making. Given that he seems to thrive on chaos and uncertainty, we can’t be sure, unfortunately, that he truly sought to tamp out the flames of outrage when he signed an executive order to stop the separation of immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

His action on Wednesday added layers of confusion, and no clarity, about the fate of the children taken from their parents.

The executive order came more than a month after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decreed that everyone crossing the border illegally, and not at designated checkpoints, would be jailed and prosecuted, their children taken to detention centers. It offered no timeline for reunification and no clarification as to the prosecution of parents. And once reunited, where will the estimated 20,000 immigrants be housed? At military bases? That’s one awful possibility being kicked around. But there is no reason to hold each and every family in detention before a hearing. They can be released and monitored, with ankle bracelets, for instance. This was common practice in previous administrations. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reports say that almost 100 percent of the undocumented appear for their court dates.

The administration is also waiting for a California judge to rule whether the U.S. Customs and Border Protection can detain children longer than 20 days as their parents await hearings, the limit prescribed by the 1997 Flores Settlement.

At center stage, and in limbo, are 2,300 emotionally traumatized children — some so young they don’t know their names — who have already been shipped to centers in more than a dozen states. Florida, of course, is in the middle of the crisis. Almost 300 children are in state centers, mainly in a facility in Homestead. We commend Miami Mayor Francis Suarez for traveling to the border on Thursday, with a delegation of other mayors, to see firsthand the detention centers housing children.

For now, the executive order has shifted the problem, not solved anything. Locally, the issue of family separation is now also being claimed by thousands of recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), who are set to be deported once their status ends next year.

On Friday, Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski, elected officials and immigration advocates are scheduled to hold a press conference to emphasize the need to prevent another looming family-separation crisis for the more than 300,000 TPS immigrants, including Haitians, Hondurans and Salvadorans.

Throughout, Congress has been of little help. Thursday, the Republican-majority House rejected a hard-line immigration bill that included deep cuts to legal immigration and offered only temporary protection for “DREAMers.” The bill was voted down by 41 Republicans. A scheduled vote on a compromise bill was postponed until next week. “All the Democrats do is obstruct, obstruct,” said Trump, returning to his finger-pointing in the separation of immigrant families at the border. He’s lying. Democrats weren’t even consulted on the bill his own party shot down. Trump’s the one who thought separating migrant families was the bargaining chip that would get him funding for a border wall.

His failed political strategy has spawned a human tragedy.