With the separation of parents and children at the Mexico border, the crisis of our country’s lack of a sane immigration system is at a fever pitch.
Nothing is as visceral as the punishmentbeing dealt to adults arriving in south Texas with their children seeking asylum. Not airport demonstrations after the 2017 “Muslim ban,” the panic over run-ins with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the limbo of DACA youth about their legal status, nor the shock of temporary protective status being withdrawn for Central Americans.
Yes, families are being detained in separate facilities, and yes, this is new.
President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions don’t apologize for a zero-tolerance policy that went into effect in May and doubled the number of minors in temporary shelters in 30 days. They intend to prosecute everyone suspected of illegal crossing, and step one — new as of last month — is to detain adults and their children in separate facilities, giving neither assurance of next steps. One father has already committed suicide in response to this pain.
We must never label people who flee their homes seeking safety for their families as guilty of misdemeanors or worse. They are refugees, which is how minor children are deemed when they actually arrive without parents. The Office of Refugee Resettlement is in charge of unaccompanied alien children. But today we’re placing kids as young as 4 — who arrived with parents — in large pens “for their protection.”
This new level of cruelty is the result of presidential orders, and neither we nor our U.S. senators and representatives should stand by believing it’s impossible to pass laws and write rules able to distinguish between dangerous people and desperate people.
It’s time we demand a return to higher refugee resettlement numbers; support the organizations that advocate policy, educate, and resettle those fleeing violence; donate to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed suit against the government for separating parents and children as unconstitutional; and let members of Congress know they must reign in this president with their powers of legislation and funding.
Jan Swartzendruber is an interfaith organizer in Newton.