Over the past two months, it has been difficult to watch news coverage of young migrant children being placed in detention facilities after being separated from their parents. The mere mention of young detainees being placed in cages in a large facility in McAllen, Texas, normally would have been hard to simply envision. However, there it was.
This has been the unfortunate reality of the zero-tolerance policy created by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in which people who are apprehended while trying to cross the Southern border are prosecuted as criminals. The policy continues to be defeneded by President Donald Trump and other administration officials, who argue that it will help deter illegal crossings, including those of criminal gangs like MS-13.
However, in late June, the president signed an executive order to halt the family separations. Yet the order didn’t mean that all those who were separated were to be immediately reunified.
There are currently some 2,000 cases of these family separations, the bulk of which happened over a six-week period between April and May. A July 26 deadline was issued and the administration was expected to reunify all families that were split by that day. As of July 27, more than 700 families are still separated.
For the record, the policy of prosecuting those crossing the border illegally, along with the detention of undocumented immigrants, isn’t exactly new. The stepped-up immigration enforcement can be traced back to program Operation Streamline that started in 2005 under the administration of then-President George W. Bush. The program called for criminal prosecution but made exceptions for adults travelling with children.
Sessions, however, is a staunch opponent of the exception. In a June 14 speech he cited a Bible verse defending the action and also stated that “having children does not give you immunity from prosecution.”
Other problems with how the policy is being carried out have been exposed. Some reports note that those apprehended by border agents were seeking asylum in the United States, which is not a crime. But because those asylum seekers crossed the border from spots that weren’t designated ports of entry, they were being unfairly viewed and treated as undocumented immigrants.
Serious concerns about the execution of the policy have been expressed by President Trump’s allies as well as notable Republican Party figures. Before the President signed the executive order to halt future family separations, Sen. Lindsay Graham said the president “could stop this policy with a phone call… tell (Department of Homeland Security) to stop doing it.” Evangelist Franklin Graham called the family separations “disgraceful.” The president’s own wife, First Lady Melania Trump, said in a statement that she “hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together.” She added that while the U.S. is a nation of laws, it is also “a country that governs with heart.”
One of the First Lady’s predecessors, Laura Bush, a Texas resident, also weighed in, describing the zero tolerance policy as cruel. “It is immoral and breaks my heart,” she said, adding that recent images of the separations are “eerily similar” to those of Japanese internment camps.
In perhaps the most vivid and painful depiction, former CIA Director Michael Hayden had posted a picture of a Nazi concentration camp, writing, “other governments have separated mothers and children.”
Many Democratic lawmakers describe the administration’s strategy as an attempt to corner them into supporting an immigration bill that contains the many elements Trump is seeking, such as funding for the border wall and an increase in the number of border patrol agents. Republicans refute the claim, pointing toward immigration concerns.
All Democrats oppose the policy. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California called for ending the family separations but she doesn’t have any Republican support.
Immigration has long been a lightning rod issue. Islamic Relief USA has worked in areas populated by immigrants, helping to guide them to various sources that can lead them to a path of self-sufficiency. It offers programs that assist them in landing jobs, housing, among other essential services. The organization currently works with several refugees through on office in North Carolina.
Islamic Relief USA calls on the federal government to ensure that the health and well-being of all detainees is not compromised during this tumultuous period. This means that they are being given adequate food and water, and that a concerted and serious effort is made to reunify families.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) said in the July 22 edition of CBS Sunday morning talk show “Face The Nation,” “while I do believe we need to enforce our laws, we also need to do so in a way that’s true to our values as a nation of compassion.” Children’s separation from their parents can have a devastating impact on their mental health, experts said. We urge all agencies involved to address this and provide necessary psycho-social services. Anything less goes against not only Islamic Relief USA’s values, but the values that America is supposed to represent at home and to the world at large.