America’s immigration system has never been a kind place for children. I will never forget the entirely unnecessary trauma inflicted upon Elián González in a paramilitary raid launched in 2000 upon a defenseless home.
But, at least, Elián was soon reunited with his father.
Recent days have seen a dark chapter for thousands of innocents in confinement stranded far from their parents in the latest wave of federal indifference.
Compounding the harm of separating children from their parents, though, immigration services failed to provide an adequate tracking system for several thousand children.
Dry cleaners provide better accountability — at least they give a ticket for a customer’s shirt.
Such insensitivity predates current headlines.
The Clinton administration battled successfully to establish that “the best interests of the child” is a principle for divorces but not immigration. Federal courts have long been extremely reluctant to intervene in immigration matters. But the current policy seems so harsh that strong unconstitutional challenges could be advanced.
In 1982, the Supreme Court found that undocumented immigrant children cannot be excluded from public education because, “Directing the onus of a parent’s misconduct against his children does not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice” and “Condemnation on the head of an infant is illogical and unjust.”
Sadly, officials ignored this wisdom in created the recent family-separation policy.
While it appears that the policy of separation is being revisited, the treatment of immigrant children has a long and troubled history, which should be re-examined with a resolve to treat innocent children with care, concern and dignity.
former U.S. Attorney,
Southern District of Florida, Miami