Our country has been consumed with reports about the separation of children from their families at the nation’s border. Children, as young as toddlers —and even babies, were separated from their parents because of the so-called “zero tolerance” illegal immigration policy enacted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The controversy over this policy transcended legal and political circles. Everyone has followed this story, for most everyone can empathize with the anguish of being forcibly torn from a son or daughter or from a mother or father. Politics aside, as Americans we were justifiably alarmed. It appeared that our country had failed to adhere to its paramount standards of decency and morality
This is an especially sensitive matter for the Cuban-American community, which had so many of its sons and daughters emigrate to the United States as unaccompanied minors on the Pedro Pan freedom flights. Our community knows firsthand the lasting emotional scars that can result from even a temporary separation from one’s family. We lived it — and still do.
And, though the circumstances are different, we sought asylum in the United States for reasons similar to those families crossing the border now: because we wanted a better life for our families. In the end, the public outcry against the administration’s policy was overwhelming, and our democracy worked. President Trump signed an executive order requiring that parents who are prosecuted for illegal entry be held with their children.
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But it is not enough. It can be rescinded, by this administration or a future one. There is too much at stake here to allow that. A permanent solution is needed. We therefore call on Congress to enact legislation ensuring that this will not happen again, that our government will not divide families as a means to penalize and deter those whose try to emigrate to this country in search of a better life — even if they have violated the law in doing so.
This is not a political message on the issue of general immigration policy or a condemnation of government efforts to enforce immigration laws. To be sure, the government is within its authority to prosecute those entering the United States illegally. It is a valid enforcement approach, setting aside political considerations as to whether our underlying immigration policies should be overhauled. It is not valid, however, to tear families apart in these situations. It is immoral — beneath the dignity of this great democracy.
Jorge Piedra is president of the Cuban American Bar Association and managing partner of Piedra & Associates. This statement was written on behalf of CABA’s board of directors.