In August 2016 Trump campaigned on a firm position regarding illegal immigration in the United States and promised these individuals would face deportation.
Priority would be given to criminals and those whose visas had expired. In addition, anyone seeking to remain legally would have to return to their country and follow US laws for legal entry. This is a tough, but reasonable statement; however, once he became president his promise eventually resulted in inhumane actions against immigrant children coming across the Mexican border.
Executive Order 13768, signed January 25, 2017, put his immigration plan in motion. “Criminal” was now defined not just as felonies or multiple misdemeanors, it means anyone convicted of minor crimes or even accused of criminal activity. Based on this Executive Order, ICE launched immigration raids across the country.
Trump continues to claim that the people crossing the Mexican border are hardened criminals and drug dealers who are responsible for increases in violent crime rates in the United States; however, statistics show this is not true.
Trump Policy to Blame
Instilling fear of immigrants rationalizes his hardline policy to his supporters, but his immigration policy has now resulted in the current situation where children are being ripped from their parents at the Mexican border.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 states that immigrants can apply for asylum at the port of entry or take up to one year from entry into the United States regardless of immigration status. Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy was intended to be for all illegal immigrants; however, there has been little, if no distinction between legal or illegal immigrants attempting to enter from Mexico.
The Department of Homeland Security started considering separating families in March 2017. Since this policy was put into place in 2018, over 2000 children have been separated from their parents and placed into detention warehouses or tent camps. The public outcry and continual media coverage of this practice exposed this human rights violation in America for the world to see.
The Trump administration placed blame everywhere except at its doorstep for separately detaining children from their parents.
The Trump Lies
The first lie was that the Democrats enacted a law that justifies taking children from their parents. There is no law. Separation of families is, in fact, a Trump policy confirmed by Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly, who said it would stop the flood of immigrants from Central America.4
Trump also claimed that only Congress could stop this practice, when, in fact a presidential policy can be changed by an Executive Order. We clearly have a president who doesn’t know the difference between a law and a policy. In any case, his tactics caused further delay in resolving this practice and even more children were separated. Then, of course, Trump signed an Executive Order, which he said would stop the practice, at least temporarily.
Another lie was “it’s a court ruling” or “Obama separated families, too”. This is in reference to a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Flores v. Lynch (January 28, 1997) which states that immigrant children should be released as quickly as possible even though parents could still be detained.
Obama’s policy was to keep women and children together in detention for up to 21 days and release them – together. Trump’s policy was to separate children, hold them indefinitely and with no plan for reuniting them with their parents upon release or deportation.
Since this practice has been exposed for all to see, we have witnessed these children being sent to states as far away as New York to be housed or placed into foster care.
The Executive Order entitled “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation”, signed June 20, 2018, stops further separation of children from their parents, asks the Department of Justice to challenge Flores v Lynch regarding detention time limits with the intention of overturning it and has no strategy for reuniting the children already in custody with relatives or parents.
This crisis is far from over and the children affected by this horrendous policy will feel the consequences for the rest of their lives.
Contributed by V. Susan Hutchinson