Republican leaders like to claim that theirs is a party that upholds “family values.” Yet just last month, the Trump administration announced that the Department of Justice will separate and criminally prosecute all immigrant families who attempt to cross the border. This policy even applies to terrified families asking for asylum from the interminable violence in Central America.
This is a Draconian new initiative. In the past, families requesting asylum would be cited for misdemeanor offenses; Homeland Security would release but monitor them while their asylum claim is considered. Even families who chose not to pursue an asylum claim would be detained together… until last summer.
The New York Times reports that over the past nine months, federal border agents have ripped children from their parents in 750 immigrant families. Young children and even infants have been taken hundreds or even thousands of miles from their parents. Over 100 of these children are 4 years or younger. They have no right to an attorney nor any contact with their parents.
Is there any legitimate purpose that might be served by separating immigrant families? Attorney General Jeff Sessions claims it serves as a “deterrent.” According to Vox News, the Justice Department claimed that a family separations pilot program in El Paso, Texas, resulted in a 64 percent decrease in family apprehensions on that section of the border over a three-month trial last summer. Actual data shows the opposite: In fact, there was a 64 percent INCREASE in border apprehensions of family units over that period; the Justice Department just read the data wrong.
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New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asserts that “Trump’s policy has veered from merely abhorrent to truly evil.” Anyone who claims to uphold “family values” should be outraged that Federal agents are forcibly separating children from their parents out of some trumped-up concept of “deterrence.”
Imagine the trauma for immigrant families like those described by Kristof, headed by single mothers who only seek to protect their children from systemic violence. They present themselves at the border to immigration officials, follow all required procedures for an asylum request, are taken across the border by those officials, and then brutally forced to give up their children. What type of heartless policy forces victims of violence to loosen their embrace of their children, releasing them to border police with no due process or assurance as to when or whether they’ll be reunited?
And what happens to these children once they are separated from their families? They’re taken to distant detention facilities or into a foster system where the federal government often completely loses track of them! In April, the Department of Health and Human Services revealed in sworn testimony to Congress that in following up on 7,235 children who had been separated from their parents and placed in foster homes, HHS failed to locate nearly 1,500 children — now missing and unaccounted for.
How did we sink to a point where we even consider this grossly inhumane practice of inflicting such pain for hundreds of families and thousands of children? How does the Trump administration abide such unimaginable cruelty upon people whose only “crime” is to seek the safety of a nation that they had mistakenly believed would respect their rights as human beings?
Here's how: Donald Trump openly spews his contempt for Muslims, for Mexicans, for black football players, for immigrants and even for American citizens if they happen to be Puerto Rican. Last week, he inexplicably attempted to blame Democrats for his new initiative to separate refugee families — but this initiative is his own design, revealing his pure, unalloyed racism and bigotry.
The people who are cheering for Trump’s immigration policy are a far-right cabal of white nationalists whose main agenda is to “Make America White Again,” to strike fear into the hearts of Latino immigrants — and if this intimidation works against non-white citizens as well, so be it.
The latest bone that Trump has thrown to the white nationalist pit bulls is to nominate Ronald Mortensen as assistant secretary of state for refugees and migration, a vital position that shapes immigration policy and human rights. Mortensen works for an extremist hate group, the Center for Immigration Studies, identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2016. The CIS produces dubious “research” exaggerating the threat of immigrant crime.
The vast majority of independent scientific evidence proves that immigrants are far less likely than native adults to commit violent crime. Furthermore, their children are less likely than native-born children to become delinquents … unless they’re separated at the border from their parents by our malevolent immigration policy. What better recipe for producing a delinquent?
Americans of all political persuasions must act to stop this macabre practice of family separation that is ripping the heart out of immigrant families and doing violence to our reputation as a humane nation. Call Rep. Salud Carbajal, and urge Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris to block the nomination of this white nationalist to a top position in our State Department.
Act today, if you believe in family values… especially if you’re a Republican!
John Ashbaugh is a former councilmember for the city of San Luis Obispo, and teaches U.S. History and Global Studies at Hancock College where many of his students are immigrants or the sons or daughters of immigrant parents. He and his wife, Patricia, have raised two daughters here, and one (Anna) is married to an immigrant. He is filling in for The Tribune's liberal columnist, Tom Fulks.