This week, the Trump administration missed a court appointed deadline to reunite children separated from families as a result of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. This policy, which directed that all people engaged in irregular border crossings be prosecuted for violation of federal law, led to the separation of over 2,000 children during its peak implementation in May and June as parents were prosecuted and detained under the directive. Though the administration indicated a change in strategy, that would allow children to remain with parents in most cases (in detention) a few weeks ago, officials also indicated that there was little they could (or were willing to) do to reunite families. In June a federal judge ordered the administration to reunite all children under 5 years old with their families within two-weeks, and older children by July 27.
With the help of a host of volunteer lawyers and other advocates, many children have been reunited with their families. However, serious problems remain. The carelessness with which children have been tracked once handed off to Office of Refugee Resettlement by immigration officials, the fact that many parents agreed to deportation under the impression that their children would join them only to find out this was not true, and the administration’s decision to block reunification with parents’ who have criminal records - even those with minor offenses - all indicate the road to justice for many families caught up in this dragnet will indeed be a long one.
Adding to the injustice is that the treatment of children, especially at facilities along the border, has been horrendous. There have been multiple reports indicating systemic problems of sexual and other physical abuse, grossly inadequate nutrition, children sleeping on freezing concrete floors, and lack of access to health services. Many of the issues have been ongoing for years, but have surfaced in the national consciousness recently because of the large numbers of children affected and the attention the broader crisis has generated.
The system is a broken and inhumane one. The Trump administration’s effort to wage a literal war against migrants has employed existing institutions and policies, even as it reaches well beyond original intentions and the capacity of the system to retain even a semblance of due process. This week legislation was introduced to establish a commission to review and make recommendations for a complete overhaul of our immigration policies, including dismantling Immigration and Custom Enforcement. Here is a summary of the bill, HR 6361, from the National Immigrants Rights Network:
"Establishing a Humane Immigration Enforcement System Act". Introduced by Congressional members Mark Pocan (WI), Pramila Jayapal (WA), and Adriano Espillat (NY), the bill would create a commission to recommend a "fair and humane system of immigration enforcement", towards eliminating ICE and transfering some of its "essential functions" to other agencies. However, the proposal would not repeal current laws that, for example, criminalize unlawful entry and re-entry. Click here for a fact sheet on the bill.
Such legislation will face a tough road in the current congress, but it is nevertheless important to signal to representatives that there is a groundswell of support for a different, more humane approach to migration. You can contact your member of congress by call the Capitol Switchboard is (202) 224-3121.