There is a crisis on America’s southern border, and it is horrific. But who’s interested in a solution?
President Donald Trump’s administration is weathering scathing criticism from the media, Democrats, and even some conservatives over the “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting illegal immigrants enacted in April. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that every adult who crosses the border illegally will be prosecuted has led to the separation of children from their parents, as the adults are detained by U.S. Marshals and the kids are placed into the custody of HHS.
Family units who follow the law and appear at ports of entry to claim asylum are not separated, though the overwhelming surge of migrants is causing backups and straining the limited resources of the government. Those who do not appear at ports of entry break the law, and if every adult is prosecuted, the government is required to separate the children while the adults are processed.
The intent of the administration’s policy is good: Trump believes in the rule of law, and the social ills of illegal immigration are numerous and terrible. Failure to enforce border law empowers human traffickers and violent gangs, fuels the nation’s drug crisis, and permanently separates families from their loved ones who are victims of violent crime and drug addiction. But the unintended consequences of Trump’s zero-tolerance enforcement are heartbreaking.
Since early May, 2,342 children have been separated from the adults they were traveling with when they crossed the border illegally. The children are temporarily held in Customs and Border Protection facilities before they are transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services. Images have been reported of minors and kids being held in chain-link fencing and sleeping on mattresses placed on the floor. Audio has surfaced of these kids wailing and calling for their parents. Children as young as eight months old have been taken at the border and transported as far away as Michigan. Horrific stories have been reported of parents being deported back to their country of origin while their children remain in custody in the United States.
In many cases, the media is exaggerating the facts or outright lying to shape public opinion against enforcing immigration law. Trump is not responsible for creating the policy of separating children from parents, which stems from a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that ruled the federal government cannot hold children in detention with their parents. Some adults are lying, and there have been 148 cases of alleged fraud among the 59,113 total family unit apprehensions — not an insignificant number when even one child may have been kidnapped so a trafficker could enter the United States by claiming asylum.
But these nuances are lost in the shouting on social media and the confusion from the White House’s contradictory defenses of the policy. Public perception is against the Trump administration. Two-thirds of Americans oppose the consequences of the “zero-tolerance” policy. The realities of the law and the immoral consequences of illegal immigration are difficult to communicate when media reports are full of tear-jerkers about children being taken from their parents.
There is an outcry for a solution to this nightmare situation. But while the Democrats and some of Trump’s critics want Trump to simply reverse the policy, they’re hiding their cards, refusing to say outright what their solution means. Refusing to enforce immigration law is just as immoral and unjust as separating families. The old policy, with the lure of DACA amnesty, incentivized migrants and traffickers to take children on the dangerous and violent journey to the southern border with the expectation that they could claim asylum and be released into the United States. A secure border and strictly enforced immigration law is necessary to stop the abuses of migrants who believe they can enter the U.S. illegally.
There are solutions to this crisis that will end the terrible practice of separating families while preserving the rule of law. Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has offered the first earnest solution that would both keep families together unless there is evidence of criminal conduct or the children are in danger and continue to enforce immigration law. But the Democrats, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., are rejecting Cruz’s proposal, arguing that legislation isn’t needed because Trump could end the crisis “with a flick of his pen” — by returning to Obama’s lawless open-borders policies.
Now here’s the proof Democrats are playing politics: First, even if Trump vetoed Cruz’s bill, a super-majority of Republicans and Democrats working together could override the veto and fix the problem, but Schumer won’t tell you that. Second, if Schumer believes a legislative fix is wrong, why did he co-sponsor the Democrats’ Keep Families Together Act? He’s supporting legislation and then saying Congress shouldn’t pass legislation, because the bill that could pass is a bill that fixes the problem without restoring Obama’s open-borders policies.
There are other excellent solutions to the problem. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., has just sent a letter to his colleague on the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asking for support for a bill to repeal the court decision that requires the Trump administration to separate families in the course of enforcing the law.
“It is ridiculous to suggest Republicans somehow support separating families,” Grassley wrote.
These claims and the demagoguery that surround them ignore the complex legal realities present in our immigration system. As each of you know, the Flores v. Reno settlement agreement has, over time, effectively prohibited the Department of Homeland Security from maintaining custody of family units. Because the Department’s ability to detain family units is effectively vitiated by the Flores settlement, those tasked with enforcing our immigration laws face a stark choice: separate families by detaining parents and releasing children, or engage in the ‘catch and release’ policies made popular by the Obama Administration.
The idea that federal officials should release any group of unauthorized immigrants who claim to be a family unit is appalling to the American people. It is well known that dangerous smugglers and human traffickers would exploit such a policy as they have in prior years. It was not uncommon during the Obama Administration for smugglers to stage fake family units at or near the border so they could then present themselves to border patrol and be released into the interior. We cannot return to those past practices. They are dangerous, and the American people expect better.
The simplest and easiest way to address this crisis is to repeal the Flores decision so that family units can remain in family residential centers and receive adequate care pending the outcome of their criminal or civil cases. This is an easy, common-sense solution that doesn’t require a hearing. My Republican colleagues and I can—and will—have this bill drafted and introduced before the end of this week. It will immediately end this crisis. Given the sincerity of your commitment to ending family separations, I hope each of you will join us as co-sponsors and work with us to ensure its passage by the full Senate unanimously later this week.
Grassley’s suggestion will change the game, because it finally asserts Congress’ constitutional authority over court decisions on border security. Grassley’s bill will immediately end the separation problem. If Democrats object to his bill, they show that they’re not actually interested in family separation. They would reveal how they are taking advantage of a crisis to undermine immigration enforcement entirely.
Here’s another solution, albeit a temporary one: President Trump Wednesday signed an executive order that allows children to stay with their detained parents while the parents are processed by immigration law enforcement. This would violate the Ninth Circuit decision, but someone would have to sue the Trump administration to stop his executive action. Anyone who sues the administration would be suing to force the administration to go back to separating families, which would be a terrible look. Executive action shouldn’t be the only remedy, though. Congress, the lawmaking body, is ultimately responsible for correcting the law and the court interpretation of the law so that American sovereignty is respected and migrants are treated fairly in the context of what is best for the United States.
So here’s the question for Trump’s most ardent critics: Are you interested in ending this crisis and keeping families together? These are the plans to do it. Or do you reject these solutions because you want the government to release all of these detained illegal immigrants into the United States, which would encourage more migrants to come to the U.S. with their children and make the problem worse?
It’s time to show your cards.
Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in politics and economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are conservative political philosophy, the American founding, and progressive rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.
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