The Trump Administration’s Family Separation Policy Is Cruel And Inhumane

A Trump Administration policy announced in April has resulted in roughly 2,000 children being taken from their parents at the border.

Back in April, the Trump Administration announced a new “zero tolerance” policy purportedly aimed at stemming the tide of migrants showing up at the U.S.-Mexican border. Part of that policy included a change in the way that children who were accompanied by parents or other family members were treated when they arrived at the border. Previously, under both the Bush 43 and Obama Administrations, it was the policy of the Federal Government to keep parents and children together in family detention centers or to process the parents and children and release them with a notice to appear on a subsequent date for a hearing that would deal with either their illegal entry or, as is the case in most of these situations, their claim to be refugees, which would mean under both American law and international agreements to which the United States is a signatory, that they would be permitted to stay in the country on a provisional basis. In those cases where children arrived at the border unaccompanied or accompanied by people who were not family members, they would be taken into custody and either placed in foster care or, more commonly, in government-run temporary housing. (Source)

All of that changed in April, though, when the Trump announced its new policy. Under that policy, the practice of keeping families together was largely abandoned and, even in situations where parents could prove that they were, in fact, related to the children accompanying them, border authorities began the process of separating children and families and placing the children in facilities not unlike those previously exclusively used for children who arrived at the border unaccompanied. The result of that policy has been numerous reports of parents and children being separated and parents not being told the truth about what was happening to their children, as well as reports about children being held in close quarters and indoors for the better part of the day rather than being allowed to interact with others. So far, according to The New York Times, this has resulted in nearly two thousand children being held in custody, far higher than what was seen under previous Administration:

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said on Friday that it had separated 1,995 children from parents facing criminal prosecution for unlawfully crossing the border over a six-week period that ended last month, as President Trump sought to shift blame for the widely criticized practice that has become the signature policy of his aggressive immigration agenda.

From April 19 to May 31, the children were separated from 1,940 adults, according to a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, who spoke during a conference call with reporters that had been described as an effort to correct the record about immigrant families being split up at the border.

Administration officials insisted on anonymity to explain the president’s policy and deny many of the damaging stories that have appeared about it in recent days. That included an anecdote about a 4-month-old taken away from her mother by immigration authorities as the baby was breast-feeding, which one official said the department had tried unsuccessfully to verify.

“I hate the children being taken away,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday morning in front of the White House. “The Democrats have to change their law — that’s their law.”

A short time later, he wrote on Twitter, “The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda.”

But Mr. Trump was misrepresenting his own policy. There is no law that says children must be taken from their parents if they cross the border unlawfully, and previous administrations have made exceptions for those traveling with minor children when prosecuting immigrants for illegal entry. A “zero tolerance” policy created by the president in April and put into effect last month by the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, allows no such exceptions, Mr. Trump’s advisers say.

The president’s efforts to deflect blame for the practice reflected the degree to which it has become politically unpopular, with Democrats, civil rights and immigrant advocacy groups and religious leaders condemning it as inhumane. Republicans have also begun to express unease about the practice. Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, said on Thursday that he was not comfortable with it, and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio tweeted on Friday: “Quit separating families. It’s that simple.”

The number released on Friday suggests that thousands of children have been taken from their parents at the border since late last year. The New York Times reported in April that about 700 children had been separated from their parents as they were processed at stations on the southwest border, including more than 100 under the age of 4. As the number of children in its custody grows beyond the capacity of existing detention centers, the Trump administration reportedly plans to erect a tent city in Tornillo, Tex., to house them.

The homeland security official said that the administration had drawn a “bright line” against taking babies from their parents because the government was unable to appropriately care for children that young, but could not immediately provide information about the age cutoff below which they would decline to take a child.

As a preliminary matter, it’s important to note that the Trump Administration and its supporters are simply not telling the truth about the current policy. As I stated above, the previous policy up until the “zero tolerance” policy was announced in April was that children and family members would not be separated at the border and that they would either be placed in a detention center that catered to families or they would be released with a notice to return at a later date for a hearing on their status. The only situation in which children would be held in a detention facility designed for children was in situation where they arrived at the border unaccompanied or in the company of people who were obviously not family members. That policy was largely dictated by a law that was passed in 2008 that places restrictions on what Federal authorities can do with people who arrive at America’s borders from nations either than Canada or Mexico, especially children not accompanied by a family member. Under that law, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, unaccompanied minor children from one of these “noncontiguous nations” cannot simply be deported immediately the way a minor from Mexico or Canada can be. Instead, they must be taken into custody and processed through the immigration system to determine whether or not they are eligible for asylum under the U.S. law. Given the fact that the U.S. immigration hearing system has always been incredibly backlogged, this meant that these unaccompanied children were often held for extended periods of time.

Contrary to the claims of the Trump Administration and its supporters, though, that law does not require and arguably was never intended to authorize, the separation of children from their parents at the border. This is why, under previous Presidents, such children were not separated from their parents and were treated differently that arrived at the border unaccompanied. The decision to begin a policy of separating parents and children is one that was created by this Administration via the “zero tolerance” policy announced in April, and it has led to numerous reports of crying children literally being ripped from their parents arms, of parents being told that their children were simply being taken to a facility where they could be checked out medically and permitted to take a shower or bath, and children being lied to by Federal authorities who told them they would soon be reunited with their mother or father.

Kathleen Parker writes in The Washington Post that this policy is, at its heart, un-American:

On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security said the Trump administration separated 1,995 children from the adults they were traveling with at the U.S. border between April 19 and May 31.

Appalling.

Maybe some hardcore Trump supporters, who elected him president on a promise to get tough on immigration, can swallow this collateral cruelty as a necessary unpleasantness. But I can’t imagine that many of them are parents. As a mother, my heart breaks at the thought of a frightened and confused child being taken away from his or her parents and stashed like an orphaned animal in what amounts to a holding pen.

To be blunt, I don’t recognize this country anymore.

This “solution” to stanching the human exodus from Latin America across our border takes a toll not only on those arrested and detained but also on our own humanity. To insist that traumatizing children is the way to deal with the problem is a failure of imagination. To not anticipate the consequences of children being detained under a zero-tolerance policy that imprisons their parents is a failure of leadership.

Most troubling is the inherent lack of empathy — as policy — and what that not only reveals but also possibly foreshadows. The only way to rationalize these events is to view these immigrants as less than human. In the abstract, some Americans may be able to convince themselves that “they asked for it.” Or, “nobody invited them. What were they expecting, a parade?”

As the Administration made clear when it announced the new policy in April, the entire purpose behind the policy is to punish people coming to the United States to seek refugee status and to make it clear that they shouldn’t even try to come to the United States notwithstanding the fact that we have an obligation to receive these refugees and give their claim a fair hearing. Before April, the policy was far different and far more humane. Either parents and children were kept together in a family-appropriate facility or they were released and given a notice to appear for a refugee hearing at a date in the future. On that note, it’s worth noting that this so-called “catch and release” policy, known officially as the Family Case Management Program, set up specifically for families seeking asylum, had a 99% rate of attending court hearings and ICE check-ins. The Trump Administration ended that program in July of last year. Trump ended the program in July 2017. Aside from the vindictiveness that the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy represents, there was no rational reason to change that policy, and it was not required by existing Federal law. Everything that is happening now is the doing of the Trump Administration and it can be fixed either via executive action stepping back from the April policy or by Congressional action. So far neither has been forthcoming, and the Administration seems intent on continuing what can only be called a cruel, cynical, inhumane, and immoral policy.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ray says:

    Yet the majority of Trump’s base supports this and sees nothing wrong with it for they like Trump believe that the people coming across are not humans but animals.

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  2. becca says:

    Trump is the most cowardly of liars and the “viscous portion ” of our population love him for it.

    This is Trump and the GOP being tough- taking babies away from their parents and then blaming democrats. Talk about kicking down and kissing up. Party of family values pitch has done flown the coop for good and certain now. Not that rational people hadn’t seen right thru that canard from the get-go.

    No wonder people are losing their religion. Everything the GOP profits from is pollution, pain, punishment, greed and always fear.

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  3. Mikey says:

    Trump’s power is based on performative cruelty. That is what his supporters voted for–not for any policy, and not for any other principle than to do the worst thing to people outside the fold at every opportunity. He is loathsome, but he’s also keeping his promises.

    https://twitter.com/Pteratorn/status/994760709732028417

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  4. Timothy Watson says:

    of parents being told that their children were simply being taken to a facility where they could be checked out medically and permitted to take a shower or bath

    Next Trump/Sessions will be putting signs up saying “Work Sets You Free” at every migrant detention facility.

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  5. James Pearce says:

    A short time later, he wrote on Twitter, “The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda.”

    But Mr. Trump was misrepresenting his own policy.

    Trump is banking on a couple of things here.

    A) Democratic incompetence. (IE, pushing for their own immigration bill instead of supporting a less desirable Republican one)
    B) The media not getting it right
    C) His supporters continuing to defend him, even if they think the policy is cruel

    I predict he’ll get the whole trifecta.

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  6. teve tory says:

    For more than a decade, even as illegal immigration levels fell overall, seasonal spikes in unauthorized border crossings had bedeviled American presidents in both political parties, prompting them to cast about for increasingly aggressive ways to discourage migrants from making the trek.

    Yet for George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the idea of crying children torn from their parents’ arms was simply too inhumane — and too politically perilous — to embrace as policy, and Mr. Trump, though he had made an immigration crackdown one of the central issues of his campaign, succumbed to the same reality, publicly dropping the idea after Mr. Kelly’s comments touched off a swift backlash.

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    But advocates inside the administration, most prominently Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s senior policy adviser, never gave up on the idea. Last month, facing a sharp uptick in illegal border crossings, Mr. Trump ordered a new effort to criminally prosecute anyone who crossed the border unlawfully — with few exceptions for parents traveling with their minor children.

    And now Mr. Trump faces the consequences. With thousands of children detained in makeshift shelters, his spokesmen this past week had to deny accusations that the administration was acting like Nazis. Even evangelical supporters like Franklin Graham said its policy was “disgraceful.”

    Among those who have professed objections to the policy is the president himself, who despite his tough rhetoric on immigration and his clear directive to show no mercy in enforcing the law, has searched publicly for someone else to blame for dividing families. He has falsely claimed that Democrats are responsible for the practice. But the kind of pictures so feared by Mr. Trump’s predecessors could end up defining a major domestic policy issue of his term.

    Good NYT story on how separation policy came about.

  7. Gustopher says:

    Wow, even MBunge can’t defend this one — at least so far — and he stops by todefend Trump on nearly everything, or at least give a whatabout or a youcantstopthingabouttrumpwhatswrongwithyou.

  8. teve tory says:

    Lindsey Graham

    Verified account

    @LindseyGrahamSC
    Follow Follow @LindseyGrahamSC
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    Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

    You’re keeping your promise to make America safer and more prosperous.

    And unfortunately for me, you’re doing all this without losing a step in your golf game!

    @realDonaldTrump #TrumpBirthday

    7:08 AM – 14 Jun 2018

    Fun Fact: If you look up Self-Abnegation in the dictionary it’s Lindsey Fucking Graham’s picture.

  9. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “A) Democratic incompetence. (IE, pushing for their own immigration bill instead of supporting a less desirable Republican one)”

    This to you is an example of Democratic incompetence? Refusing to support a bill that completely upends immigration into this country by slashing family reunification (what the Rs now lovingly call “chain migration”) and wastes untold billions on Trump’s wall while not actually ending any of Trump’s horrible policies that have led to concentration camps for children?

    So you think that it would be good for Democrats to make themselves indistinguishable from Republicans on this issue?

    Keen thinking there.

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  10. JKB says:

    Everyday hundreds, probably thousands of children are ripped from their mothers in every city and county across the country by government workers under the guise of “social services” even if the parents are not detained by government authorities. It can be weeks, if not months, before mothers and fathers can get a hearing to contest the forcible, at gun point, removal of their children.

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  11. HarvardLaw92 says:

    The beauty of him getting the GOP mired down in immigration in an election year is that it’s impossible to resolve immigration in a way that makes everybody happy under the best of circumstances, and an election year with Trump on the other side of the situation is the absolute worst of circumstances.

    They run the risk of pissing off Trump’s idiot base, or they run the risk of pissing off the country club wing that writes the contribution checks. No matter what they do, they’re left trying to thread the needle & avoid pissing their constituency off. They’ll fail, of course, and they run the risk of giving Democratic voters something else to be energized about (as if they needed something else to be energized about).

    Trump may end up being the best gift the Democratic Party ever received.

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  12. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @teve tory:

    Graham has no principles beyond winning his next reelection campaign. If Trump came out and said that child sacrifices were necessary, Graham would be on TV throwing babies off of a cliff in order to keep the crazies in SC pacified.

    I’ve said it here before, but not letting the South leave when we had the chance was the biggest mistake this country has ever made. It may end up being the mistake that eventually destroys the nation.

  13. Mister Bluster says:

    @JKB:..you will be providing documentation to back up this claim with your next post.
    Be sure you identify the thousands of cases where the removal of children was not warranted.
    While you are at it be sure to lobby Supreme Leader and Chairman of the Republican Workers Party,
    Kim Jong-Trump to grab his new boyfriend’s crotch when he visits Washington and say “Welcome to America! This is from JKB!”

  14. liberal capitalist says:

    “The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda.”

    But Mr. Trump was misrepresenting his own policy.

    It is a misrepresentation, but it is not unintentional by Mr. Trump.

    He’s framing the conversation to his benefit, hoping that the comment will not get immediately questioned. Then the media will state continuously that it’s the Democrats that are causing it (repeating Trump) even though it is the trump admin policy that has nothing to do with the Dems.

    Framing the conversation and overwhelming his opposition (name calling, lawsuits, not paying bills) is what Trump does.

    The media will need to get better on calling him on his lies immediately and in his face.

    Here is a good example: The 987,386 Most Fucked Up Lies Our Shithead President Told This Morning

  15. James Pearce says:

    @wr:

    This to you is an example of Democratic incompetence?

    Earlier I saw a tweet from Diane Feinstein (in Congress since 1992) that said, “43 senators now support our bill to bar children from being taken from their parents at the border. We still need a Republican senator to join. If you’re represented by a Republican senator, please ask them to cosponsor S.3036.”

    Well, Sen. Feinstein, I’ve never been to Washington and I can tell you that you’re not going to get any Republican senators to join you in supporting your bill. Why? Because they have a bill too, and they have Congress and they have the president and what does Feinstein have besides twitter shame?

    How come she’s not talking to Republican senators? Instead of trying to pass their bill, which has little support and very little chance of seeing the president’s desk, why are they not trying to leave their mark on the GOP bill? Must they be completely irrelevant or can they content themselves with being somewhat relevant?

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  16. Steve says:

    What kind of parent enters a country illegally even taking the chance of getting their kids taken from them in the first place. How many of the morons commenting here do that? Easy fix is to send every single one of the back to their home country … with their kids. Keep the law, keep your kids. Seems easy enough.

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  17. Gustopher says:

    @JKB: Huzzah, we got a whatabout from JKB!

    Fun Fact: Just because Policy A can be cruel, doesn’t mean we have to be deliberately cruel with Policy B.

  18. Modulo Myself says:

    @James Pearce:

    FFS–Democrats and moderate Republicans had a deal with DACA and the stupid wall. Even Trump was on board. But his base couldn’t handle seeing Mexican-Americans happy that they were now citizens. So there was no deal.

    They like hurting people seeking asylum because it makes them feel good about their own lives. They like this because they have no other solutions. America is not going to be less diverse. For people who loathe and fear diversity, it’s here to stay. No deal will be made to satisfy infantile racists like Jeff Sessions. There’s no solution and no answer. It’s just pathetic hate from worthless people.

  19. An Interested Party says:

    Everyday hundreds, probably thousands of children are ripped from their mothers in every city and county across the country by government workers under the guise of “social services” even if the parents are not detained by government authorities.

    Wow, even for you this is incompetent…of course many children are indeed removed from homes due to neglect and abuse at the hands of their parents/guardians…to try to link that to this hideous policy is completely cynical and duplicitous…of course, you support the Orange Toddler, so such motives should be expected…

    Instead of trying to pass their bill, which has little support and very little chance of seeing the president’s desk, why are they not trying to leave their mark on the GOP bill?

    How, exactly, would they do that? A majority in the Senate and the House as well as the president would support their ideas? You act like the fact that they are in the minority means nothing and that they can somehow wave magic wands and get what they want…

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  20. Yank says:

    Instead of trying to pass their bill, which has little support and very little chance of seeing the president’s desk, why are they not trying to leave their mark on the GOP bill?

    Because Trump and the hardcore nativist wing of the GOP don’t want a bill. They will keep moving the goalpost and asking for concessions on stuff they know Democrats and Republicans, who are moderate on immigration reform won’t go for.

    It is a smart political move because it gets rubes like you distract from the real problem, which is the President and a large segment of the GOP caucus in the house.

  21. James Pearce says:

    FFS–Democrats and moderate Republicans had a deal with DACA and the stupid wall. Even Trump was on board. But his base

    FFS….the deplorables again? What about your base? So concerned they’d rather see these families ripped apart than make a deal with the president, and so proud of it. That’s supposed to be endearing?

    How, exactly, would they do that?

    You act like a bicameral legislative body functioning with two opposing parties is conceptually impossible. Let’s act like it’s not.

    They will keep moving the goalpost and asking for concessions on stuff they know Democrats and Republicans, who are moderate on immigration reform won’t go for.

    I’m not unsympathetic to this argument. “We don’t negotiate with hostage-takers.” But sometimes you have to.

    If you want to take a hard line, endure these separations. If the separations are unendurable, don’t take a hard line.

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  22. teve tory says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    They like hurting people seeking asylum because it makes them feel good about their own lives. They like this because they have no other solutions. America is not going to be less diverse. For people who loathe and fear diversity, it’s here to stay. No deal will be made to satisfy infantile racists like Jeff Sessions. There’s no solution and no answer. It’s just pathetic hate from worthless people.

    Seconded.

  23. teve tory says:

    Matt Bors

    @MattBors
    Follow Follow @MattBors
    More
    Employee quits job at for-profit child prison camp after being told to order three siblings not to hug each other.

    “[they were] huddled together, tears streaming down their faces”

    9:55 AM – 15 Jun 2018

    la times

    Dear rest of the world: Most of america regrets putting the shittiest, most deplorable excuses for humans in charge of this place. This is temporary.

  24. Jen says:

    @JKB: When I was working as a state legislative aide, I was allowed to shadow family services work for two days, including watching family court proceedings. What I listened to, for hours on end, was utterly gut-wrenching.

    There are a lot of people who are profoundly unprepared to be parents. Many of the people in court were on their third or fourth chances and I was left wondering why they had even been afforded a second. That’s how bad some of these abuse and neglect cases were. I listened as a teen went through the process to become an emancipated minor–the years of physical abuse had me near tears.

    This experience was more than twenty years ago, and it affected me profoundly. Since that day, I have held that:

    1) Not everyone is cut out to be a parent.
    2) The government has a duty to protect the vulnerable, even if that means protecting them from their own family.
    3) Social services workers are grossly underpaid for the work they do.

    You might think it’s okay to leave kids in homes where they are punished for potty training accidents by inflicting 2nd degree burns on their backsides, or left to fend for themselves at age 6 because mom has a meth habit, or in a home where a stepdad routinely punishes for minor infractions by burning arms with cigarettes, but I do not.

    @Steve:

    What kind of parent does that? One that looks around the devastation in their home country, (rampant with drug killings and political corruption, no jobs, rampant inflation, etc.) realizes that there has to be something better for their family, and then risks everything, including their health, lives, and safety, to get to somewhere they think might be better.

    The fact that you are even saying that means to me you have no idea what these people are escaping from. Do some reading up and then ask yourself if you were in the same situation, would you stay? Or would you try like hell to get your family somewhere better? The vast majority of these people don’t want to leave the only home they’ve ever known, it has simply become SO BAD they decide they have to try something.

  25. Hal_10000 says:

    This is the only coherent defense of the policy I’ve read and it’s not terribly impressive. The real problem is Trump’s decision to prosecute everyone, including asylum seekers. It’s his ignorance showing up again; he doesn’t seem to realize what this entails. Congress can fix it, but won’t because they’re spineless cowards.

  26. Yank says:

    I’m not unsympathetic to this argument. “We don’t negotiate with hostage-takers.” But sometimes you have to.

    If you want to take a hard line, endure these separations. If the separations are unendurable, don’t take a hard line.

    You just don’t get it.

    They don’t want a bill. The hardliners in the Republican party have been the primary problem concerning immigration since 2013. Democrats and Republicans, who are moderate on immigration, have hatched out deals all-time. DACA would have been solved months ago if Ryan just put forth a clean bill, but he won’t do it because of the pushback from the hardliners in his party. The same thing happened to Boehner in 2013.

  27. Mister Bluster says:

    @Jen:..You might think it’s okay to leave kids in homes where they are punished for potty training accidents by inflicting 2nd degree burns on their backsides, or left to fend for themselves at age 6 because mom has a meth habit, or in a home where a stepdad routinely punishes for minor infractions by burning arms with cigarettes,..

    As long as Supreme Ruler and Chairman of the Republican Workers Party Kim Jong-Trump and his envoy from Tophet*, Jeff “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Sessions, say it is OK, JKB and his Gang of Grovelers are relieved from thinking about this.
    “Trump said it, I believe it, that settles it!”

    *late Middle English: from Hebrew tōp̱eṯ, the name of a place in the Valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem used for idolatrous worship, including the sacrifice of children (see Jer. 19:6),..

  28. Kari Q says:

    @Steve:

    What kind of parent enters a country illegally even taking the chance of getting their kids taken from them in the first place.

    Turn the question around and ask “What situation would be so bad that it would drive a parent to enter a country illegally, even taking the chance of getting their kids taken from them?” Then go do some reading on where they come from and what these people are fleeing. Maybe you’ll understand better why they would go such lengths.

  29. captainobvious says:

    @Kari Q: So you’re saying America is great? Or are you saying someone who just had a child is now saying to themselves “my situation is very bad in this country, I need to go into a country I have NO IDEA about, I DONT KNOW their language. And im about to break the first law into getting into their country, I hope they welcome me”.