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July 26, 2018

Family reunification deadline puts spotlight on crisis the administration created at the border

One thing that all Americans seem to agree is on is that our nation’s immigration system has been broken for decades and is in dire need of reform. While politicians have been fighting over this for years, the blame for the ongoing humanitarian crisis at our southern border and in children’s shelters across America belongs to one person only: President Donald J. Trump.

While images of children taken from their families no longer fill the front pages of newspapers, very little has changed on the border and this problem has not gone away. President Trump’s so-called “zero tolerance” policy has separated families seeking asylum, stranded young children in federal custody without their parents, and left the federal government unable to comply with a court order to reunite babies and toddlers with their parents even weeks after being separated. The Trump administration has actually deported many of these children’s parents, leaving young children alone in the U.S., and has apparently lost track of some children’s parents entirely. If the administration believes this chaos they have created will deter immigration, they misunderstand the dire circumstances so many of these families are fleeing.

The maliciousness of the president’s zero-tolerance policy has been exceeded only by his administration’s incompetence in carrying it out. Despite repeated questions about the number of children in custody, their whereabouts, or what led to the breakdown in matching children with their parents, we have gotten few, if any, answers. Members of Congress have also been turned away from visiting shelters in their own communities, raising questions about what the administration is trying to hide from the public. The departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Health & Human Services each have a hand in implementing this new policy – yet officials from these departments never seem to be on the same page publicly and frequently give out contradictory or misleading information. When administration officials came to Capitol Hill to explain the predicament they created, most of us end up leaving with more questions than answers.

Thankfully, for the time being, a federal court has roundly rejected the administration’s request to lock children up alone indefinitely. However, since the public outcry over headlines describing children alone in cages forced President Trump to reverse his policy, and give actions by the federal courts, he now wants to lock up children in detention facilities with their parents indefinitely. This is just cruelty by a different name. As the administration tries to find a way to make this legal, it has started preparations to have profit-maximizing private prison corporations construct tens of thousands of new detention beds on military bases for parents and children alike.

Many opposed locking up families under previous administrations and continue to do so now, instead supporting effective, less costly alternatives that protect the rights of children and have high rates of success. Unfortunately, the Trump administration put an end to one such program, likely to push the president’s anti-immigrant agenda instead. It is important to note that 86 percent of families that have been released attended all of their immigration hearings, despite the president’s constant rhetoric to the contrary.

This all may be moot, however. We learned last week that hundreds of parents waiting to be reunited with their children already have deportation orders. This puts parents, who have not seen their children for weeks or months, in the impossible position of having to either return with their children to the countries they fled or leave their children here in the United States for good.

It seems apparent that the administration will not be able to meet its court-ordered Thursday deadline to reunite all remaining separated children. For an administration that uses rhetoric about enforcing the laws on the books, it has not made the reunification of families, as ordered by the court, a top priority.

President Trump’s zero-tolerance policy has harmed children and families, undermined our standing at home and abroad, and angered Americans from all walks of life. Just as we must hold the president accountable for the zero-tolerance policy, we must do everything possible to ensure he is not allowed to repeat that debacle by detaining families indefinitely. The American people should know there is no crisis at the border other than the one President Trump has created. Running our immigration system is the president’s responsibility. The humanitarian disaster and bureaucratic chaos resulting from his zero-tolerance and family separation policies are also his responsibility. He must own up to it.

By:  Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS)
Source: The Hill