Just over a year ago, after relentless pressure from all corners of society, President Trump signed an executive order to end his “zero tolerance” child separation policy.
After last week, it’s starting to feel like déjà vu all over again.
Last Monday, Trump tweeted, “ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.”
With the exception of Acting Secretary of DHS, Kevin McAleenan, the message from the administration was unflinching. If an individual received a final order of deportation, they would be targeted for deportation. And anyone found with them who was undocumented would be deported as well. The fear in communities was palpable.
The president’s big stick approach, combined with appalling news reports, reminded people of the administration’s inhumane policies.
As the administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (also known as “Remain in Mexico”) scaled up, the Washington Post’s Maria Sacchetti reported that, “Mexican officials say they likely cannot handle the rapid influx, as they are desperate for more shelter space, food and supplies.” In fact, I was in El Paso on Friday and learned that shelters that were once seeing 75–100 migrants released by ICE per day, were closing because people were being sent back over the border.
Side note: Earlier this year, Ciudad Juárez saw a spike in homicides. And, 2018 “was Juárez’s bloodiest since 2008 to 2010.” In fact, according to Business Insider, Tijuana and Juárez were the first and fifth most violent cities in the world, respectively.
On Friday, accounts of deeply disturbing conditions at a detention facility for minors near El Paso were reported by the Associated Press. Leading to a convergence of items over the weekend.
First, the New York Times’ harrowing account of conditions at a detention facility in Clint, Texas, reminded Americans how we treat migrant children. Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, told The Times, “’A few of the kids said they had some opportunities to go outside and play, but they said they can’t bring themselves to play because they are trying to stay alive in there.’”
One of the nation’s most influential evangelical leaders, Beth Moore, tweeted in response to this news, “Can’t even wrap my mind around the reality of this. Devastating and outrageous.”
And Governor Jeb Bush’s Saturday tweet of the Times’ article, as of Monday morning, has been retweeted/liked over 27,000 times.
Later in the day, the Houston Chronicle’s Lomi Kriel (one of the first reporters to uncover the child separation policy) profiled 4-year old Briana, who had been separated from her father in March and placed in foster care. (The New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer connects the dots around the different strands of enforcement in the Trump era.)
Finally, Saturday afternoon, Trump tweeted he was delaying the deportation operations two weeks to see if a compromise could be reached to “work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border. If not, Deportations start!”
All of this takes place in a volatile legislative environment. Congress is trying to provide emergency funding for the response along the border. And the administration seeks changes to asylum law and the Flores Agreement.
First of all, yes, there is a humanitarian crisis along the border. The Senate moving forward with funding to address Health and Human Services needs along the border is an encouraging sign. The House takes up their supplemental funding bill this week.
Second, if an individual, after receiving a fair hearing, is not eligible for asylum, they should not be allowed to remain. (Our working paper on the issues.)
But the president is holding immigrants hostage for changes to immigration policy that will not solve any problems. And he is placing local law enforcement in an increasingly untenable situation. Art Acevedo, Houston’s Chief of Police, told the Texas Tribune’s Alana Rocha, “We don’t focus on immigration status because our job is to fight crime and not enforce immigration laws.”
We should not fool ourselves into thinking changing asylum laws will solve the problems in Central America. Changing credible fear criteria or forcing Guatemala or Mexico to sign safe third country agreements won’t stop the violence, corruption and poverty that is driving families to leave.
And, after the AP and Times stories, we do not need more proof that the government is unable (and unwilling) to hold minors, as Ken White wrote in The Atlantic, in, “facilities that are ‘safe and sanitary’ and that they be released from confinement without delay whenever possible.”
We are way past “déjà vu.”
We are detaining children in inhumane facilities. We are trapping children and families in increasingly unsafe cities like Tijuana and Juarez.
Yet again, deterrence as an immigration policy is failing.
This time our failure is putting the lives of children and families at risk.