Don't Be Fooled, Trump Has No Compassion For Migrant Families | Opinion

President Trump said it was compassion that motivated him to sign a recent executive order to end family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border. Yet, if the past few weeks have shown us nothing else, it is that the only cries the president is capable of hearing are those of his base.

Just this Sunday, he described immigrants as “invaders,” and suggested that the United States do away with the rule of law and deport undocumented immigrants without any judicial process whatsoever. This administration views migrant children’s lives as mere political stagecraft—with any pretense of compassion for them or their parents as a dramatic flourish.

A closer look at the executive order tells us all we need to know about the true motivation: to criminalize asylum seekers, punish parents trying to protect their children, eliminate child safety standards, and dismantle the U.S. asylum system, thereby sealing off any legal avenues for those seeking safety from violence or persecution.

First, by expressly stating that children should be incarcerated with their parents, the executive order merely replaces the trauma of separation with that of child detention. Trading family separation with family detention is not a solution—it is an abomination; evidence has overwhelmingly shown the detention of children causes long-term and often irreparable physical, psychological, and mental health issues.

Current facilities operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been unable to obtain licensing or comply with the 1997 federal court decision Flores V. Reno mandating that, accompanied or not, children should be released to their parents or family in the community wherever possible, and that where custody beyond limited initial processing is necessary, children must be held in “non-secure,” licensed facilities.

In order to detain children with their parents, the administration is seeking to waive or overturn this seminal case. This has long been their intention so they would not have to comply with basic standards in housing migrant and asylum-seeking children. This case is essentially what stands between the administration and the ability jail children—indefinitely.

As further evidence that this executive order was never about compassion, let’s look at what the order omits—namely, what will become of the children who have already been separated? The administration has still not articulated a workable plan to reunite the more than 2,300 separated children from their parents. 

Their proposed solution is to reunite parents with children as they are being deported. This ignores the reality that the vast majority of these families are seeking asylum. We are already hearing reports that parents are being offered reunification with their children if they agree to withdraw their request for an asylum hearing and agree to voluntary departure.

GettyImages-973077552 A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. John Moore/Getty Images

Make no mistake, there are options other than separation, locking children in jails, and blackmailing asylum-seeking mothers. Solutions exist—and do not require legislation nor changes in our laws. One highly successful program put into place by Obama was ended last year by the Trump administration. The Family Case Management Program—a program that provided support and guidance from pro bono lawyers and others—was 99% effective in ensuring that families appeared for appointments, hearings, and left the country when required. It also cost $35 a day per person, compared with the financial costs of separating or detaining estimated to be between $260—$1000 per person per day, not to mention the human costs from families being terrorized.

I recently saw with my own eyes how such a haphazard system is directly impacting children. While visiting a busy immigration processing detention center in McAllen, Texas, I met one little Guatemalan girl, thought to be two-years-old, who had been separated from her mother and aunt. She only spoke the indigenous dialect of K'iche' so nobody could communicate with her. She was being cared for by another 16-year-old girl who had been placed in the same cell after having been separated from her own mother.

After a 20 minute search, we discovered that her aunt was being held in a cell just a few yards away, and that the girl was actually registered by the wrong name and the wrong age—she was four. Once we had the right information it did not take long to find her aunt, but that reunion happened only because we happened to select the girl’s name from a long list of children.

This is just one example of just how chaotic the reunification process is. For many of the children who have already been taken from their parents, reuniting them will be much more challenging, if not impossible.

The president’s executive order isn’t about solutions and it sure isn’t founded on compassion. It’s about political gamesmanship and a full-frontal assault on asylum-seeking families. As we have seen time and time again, this is the administration’s standard operating procedure: issuing bold policy pronouncements with no plan on how to implement them, and ignoring viable, humane solutions. What hangs in the balance is the health and safety of children, the integrity of families, and our morality.

The administration’s zero-tolerance policy is still in effect, meaning migrants and asylum-seekers will still continue to be detained at an alarming and unsustainable rate; children will now be jailed with their parents in facilities on military bases that do not meet child protection standards, and more than 2,000 children are still without their parents. And all the while, actual drug smugglers and criminals at the border go free because our federal courts are preoccupied with this chaos.

The practice of separating some families may be halted by this executive order for now, but the humanitarian crisis created by this president is far from over for tens of thousands of families. The fact is that the Trump administration is hellbent on criminalizing the legal and legalizing the criminal.

Michelle Brané is director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​

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