The Bad Rationale and Bad Policy Behind the Border Separations

There is no reason or justification for traumatizing children.

In early May Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that U.S. law enforcement would begin a new tactic of separating parents from their children if they are caught attempting to cross the Southwest U.S. border illegally. Opponents of the policy have called for it to end because of the trauma that this inflicts on the children, which can have long-term health consequences. Supporters don’t seem to refute these claims but generally shift blame to the parents who are putting their children in this position by attempting to cross the border illegally. The United Nations has deemed the practice a violation of the children’s’ human rights and called for it to be halted immediately.

The largest and most dire flaw in the policy is obviously that it causes serious immediate, ongoing, and long-term harm to blameless children. Understanding why the ideas behind the policy are also flawed can help to illustrate why simply blaming the parents is in no way sufficient to justify the actions taken against these children. In terms of simple logic and human morals the rationale for separating children from their parents under these circumstances falls apart under even a little examination. Morally any action that involves children must be guided by the principle of eliminating or at least reducing any potential harm to the children. Logically if there are detention centers that can house children it is possible to have a detention center that can house a family together. This would accomplish the goal of detaining people who are attempting to cross the border illegally, without inflicting nearly as much harm on the kids.

This of course assumes that it’s necessary to detain everyone who is caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally. It’s not. Crossing the U.S. border illegally once is a federal misdemeanor. No other country has policy like this and up until recently in the U.S. the practice had been to turn people around or release them while they wait for a hearing in immigration court. Detaining people for this is a little like sending a person to jail and impounding their car after one speeding ticket. Except if the car was a living breathing human child capable of experiencing trauma. It seems that the separations are not being done as a matter of legal necessity but rather as a sort of legal PR campaign to scare off potential illegal immigrants.

Forcibly separating kids from their parents is an act of violence. When a group uses violence or the threat of violence to instill fear and influence the actions of a certain population, that’s known as terrorism. When a government does it that can be categorized as state terrorism. And the U.S. government knows how well this form of terrorism works because this is not the first time it’s been used in the U.S. Separating parents from their children, or threatening to, was used as means to control and torture slaves and Native Americans for hundreds of years in the U.S. Having the government take part in this practice again is a step backwards towards the most horrific parts of America’s past, and embracing the worst in what the United States is.

Of course the U.S. needs a southern border that is actually functional as a border. But if lawmakers and law enforcers are not able to accomplish that without hurting children then they need to try much harder, or they need to be replaced with people who will. The U.S. also needs lawmakers who understand the historical and current role that American actions and policies have in making certain parts of central and South American very difficult to live in for a lot of people.

Citizens of the Marshal Islands may live and work in the U.S. without a visa, and can even serve in the U.S. military. This policy exists because the U.S. and the Marshal Islands have a unique relationship that accounts for the fact that during the 1940s and 50s the U.S. military used Bikini Atoll and several other areas of the Marshal Islands as nuclear test sites. The nuclear detonations killed many Marshallese and rendered several parts of the now independent nation permanently unlivable.

This same arrangement would obviously not work between the U.S. and most other countries, and the U.S. has so far not nuked any other any part of South or Central America. But it has damaged economies and governments and negatively impacted livability in a number of its southern neighbors. The U.S. has backed multiple attempts to overthrow democratically elected leaders in Nicaragua, for over 100 years. Progress towards democracy, law and order, and economic growth in Honduras has been undermined by U.S. powers again and again, often for purely commercial gain. The U.S. government installed a dictator in Panama and then subsequently invaded to overthrow him. And of course the U.S. “War on Drugs” combined with Americans’ insatiable demand for illegal drugs has, for decades, fueled and empowered the drug cartels that have people running for their lives out of parts of Mexico and other countries. This is not to say that the U.S is entirely to blame for everything wrong in any other country. Government corruption, lack of law and order, and other internal political and economic factors in various countries are also big factors in people feeling like they need to leave their homes and come to the U.S., but there is plenty of blame to go around and the U.S. bears some of it.

The same way that the U.S. government has taken some responsibility for the long-term effects of nuclear testing in the Marshal Islands, it can take responsibility for its role in the influx of immigrants from other countries. That means both working with foreign governments to help ensure that people have safety and opportunities no matter where they live. And it means creating functional immigration policies that allow entry for people who don’t have access to safety or opportunity where they are, and who want to live and work and peacefully make a good life in the U.S. If that can be accomplished then there will be fewer parents who are facing a choice between bringing their child to the U.S. illegally with the threat of getting separated at the border, or staying put and having their child grow up under extreme poverty and/or the threat of getting murdered by a cartel.

Blaming the parents who are faced with that choice is not nearly an adequate justification for hurting kids, and it never will be. Nothing will be.

Comments (20)
ThreePatriots
ThreePatriots

Editor

Because the law calls for detention due to breaking of the law.. let's not forget that we are not talking about people walking up to a port of entry and seeking asylum, but people who swim across a river, or jump over or through a fence to gain entry into the U.S. They are breaking the law and are subject to the same punishment's that U.S. citizens are when we break the laws. Due to congress and the courts, this means adults are detained in jails while the children are given to CPS.

What is the difference here than with Obama? Not much, just a policy that all illegal-crossers will be prosecuted, not just the repeat offenders or criminals.

The office of the President has no power to make laws in the U.S. This is in the hands of Congress to rectify the law. Can't blame an administration for enforcing a law, especially one that every administration has enforced since the law was implemented.

Gabbyhobbs
Gabbyhobbs

Because it could have not been the case but this administration pushed for the most number of prosecution that resulted to this separations. There are other options, more humane ones which they could have taken like detention or deportation but why cage them? If our laws say detention or deportation then we follow that until our seemingly unable Congress finds a better solution for the long term

ThreePatriots
ThreePatriots

Editor

@FelixCulpa So, shall we throw the children in jail with the parents when they are found to be breaking the laws of the U.S.? Or should we just let them go because they have kids with them? Both of those sound like worse options, IMO.

Here's a novel thought... DON'T BREAK THE LAW. Come to one of the many border crossings and if you are there to seek political asylum, then you won't be separated from your children and you will go through the process like everyone else. I'm confused as to why these people who are knowingly crossing the border illegally are being put on a pedestal?

And @FelixCulpa... first you compare this issue to Nazi Germany and war crimes, then you compare it to a parking ticket. Wow.

Gabbyhobbs
Gabbyhobbs

New level of low by separating and terrorizing children just so we can enforce our laws. Not all laws are moral. I don't want to go as far as comparing these to atrocities of wars from before but aren't we all humans first? The children can't fend for themselves, we can blame the parents but do kids really have to go through all that just so we can prove a point and enforce our laws? And what makes me more sad is recent news grows dimmer by the day. Could be no chance of compromise til Midterms.

FelixCulpa
FelixCulpa

It is indeed a slippery slope. But we're not talking about getting out of a parking ticket here. Taking kids away from their parents and putting them in cages in order to scare other vulnerable people is a pretty stark example of WRONG.

ThreePatriots
ThreePatriots

Editor

Are we now comparing the Holocaust and War Crimes to our current U.S. situation? This thread has really come full circle from the U.S. being a state sponsor of terrorism to now being put in the same boat as the Holocaust. Phew.

I do completely agree that laws are created by humans and not perfect, but at what point do we say that someone is given the right to selectively chose which laws they should enforce and which ones they shouldn't enforce? That's a slippery slope to fall down... how about we just fix the laws that we find to be broken? Is that too much to ask of Congress? Apparently so.

FelixCulpa
FelixCulpa

@ThreePatriots "New level of low by enforcing the law? I'm confused... "

Strange as it may seem, the laws of our nation are created by humans. Humans are not perfect, and our endeavors even less so. As a result our laws are not perfect. To enforce a law knowing it will cause harm and then attempt to avoid responsibility for that harm by blaming the law is EXACTLY why the Nuremberg Trials were held; and why they were held at Nuremberg. The Nuremberg Trials were meant to forcefully demonstrate to the entire world that "following orders" or obeying an unjust law to cause unwarranted harm will not be recognized by civilized nations as a legitimate defense. The trials were held at Nuremberg so that those who exalted at petty triumphs over the weak would feel the scorn in which they were held, and to make the place where they so exalted the locus of their chastisement. The enforcement of an unjust law has long been recognized as "low" by civilized peoples. Whether that concept is realized by the Trump administration remains to be seen.

ThreePatriots
ThreePatriots

Editor

New level of low by enforcing the law? I'm confused...

I hate the policy, but the policy is current U.S. law. Trump and score of Congressmen/women have called for the law to be changed. Now, we sit and see if they will actually put their mouth where their money is and act.

ThreePatriots
ThreePatriots

Editor

That is in no way what I said or inferred or implied in any way, shape or form. As I stated "While I could go in a break down thepathway to your conclusion by simple dictionary definitions, I'll address only the "state sponsor of terrorism" term you used." Since you insist, I'll break it down to your pathway from "taking a child from parents is violence" to "this is terrorism".

Violence according to Webster's Dictionary: "the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy" Terror/terrorism (again from Webster's): "violent or destructive acts (such as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands"

When a parent is arrested by ICE for breaking the law, the children have to go somewhere. There is no injury, abuse, or destruction that occurs during said separation. And by all accounts, there is no destructive act committed that could in any way be considered terrorism. Hence why in the first comment I called it a farce and I stand by my initial comment.

And you can by no means dismiss the comparison of illegal border crossings with someone who commits a federal crime because under current law, they are one-in-the-same. You may not like it or agree with it, but that doesn't make it change. Congress has the ability to address this issue. As I said before, call your representatives and tell them to vote for the immigration reform.

AveryCO
AveryCO

Evaluating all points from both parties I can say the Democrats are pushing more into the emotions, empathy but they do point out that separations as aggressive as this one only happened under the new zero tolerance policy which Trump's admin made due to loopholes in current immigration laws. Conservatives on the other hand rely on readings of the laws, and that separations are "legal" as such can only be fixed by Congress. The Democrats and GOP have both filed emergency bills but due to hyper partisanship nothing has been achieved yet. Sadly the Congress has become impotent

Gabbyhobbs
Gabbyhobbs

Trump's admin has gone to a new level of low.

A_Chapman
A_Chapman

Editor

So by your standard this isn't state sponsored terrorism it's just terrorism? I think that is also a fair categorization. I'm aware that currently the term "state sponsored terrorism" is used mainly to refer to governments funding extra legal non-state actors, however historically it has been used to mean states engaging in terrorism directly. I prefer this term to the term "state terrorism" because most people aren't familiar with that term and it kind of sounds like the state is being terrorized. To me the semantics of the particular label are not nearly as important as the fact that the U.S. is using a tactic that is motivated not by law and order, but by the desire to make people afraid.

Saying that there are other circumstances under which children are separated from their parents does not justify this situation where it is being used unnecessarily as a tactic to cause harm and fear.

ThreePatriots
ThreePatriots

Editor

While I don't support the separation of family units, you can not reasonably bridge the gap to the concept that by doing so, the U.S. is a state sponsor of terrorism.

While I could go in a break down thepathway to your conclusion by simple dictionary definitions, I'll address only the "state sponsor of terrorism" term you used. State-sponsored terrorism is government support of violent non-state actors engaged in terrorism. The premise falls apart solely based upon what the term actually means. I could go on, but I doubt I'm going to change your mind, so I'll leave it at that.

Do you support the separation of family units when crimes are committed? For example, let's say Susie is a single mom of 2 young children. Susie commits a federal crime and is put in jail... what do you do with her children who cannot take care of themselves? They go to the custody of DHS, which is the same situation occurring at the border. Parents are being held on federal charges and the children go to DHS.

All that being said, I want to see immigration reform passed, and hopefully there is a push in Congress to get it done. We have to figure out how to stop these illegal crossings from happening, while fixing the legal process to enter and make it work better for everyone. Canada, for example, is more strict on their enforcement of immigration laws, but they also offer more pathways towards legal status

FelixCulpa
FelixCulpa

Hearts and Minds. To our South is a populous nation that does quite a lot of the menial labor that gets done in this country. Short of closing all the ports, cancelling all visas, closing all the border crossings (you didn't actually think they looked into every cargo truck, panel van, backseat and trunk; did you?), closing the airports, AND building a ridiculously expensive wall, there is no way to keep Mexicans from entering the US. By separating children and their families at the border we're doing strategic damage to America. We run the risk of of changing a somewhat alienated neighbor into a hostile nation open to foreign influence. If I were Putin I would be on the phone to Vincente Fox right now, trying to drum up more photos, more recordings, more horror stories for the international community to watch on the news. Mexico has a lot of pride, and if we trespass too far on that it's gonna be a bad deal down the line. Mexico (unlike most US conflicts) is OVER HERE, has oil, and would be a coup for ANY foreign power to gain influence over, not just a hostile one. Cruelty to children, whether real or perceived, is a redline for a lot of people (a group that includes diplomats all over the world) and we are not doing ourselves any favors by pursuing this policy. On another note; ICE is a Federal Agency. The DEA is a Federal Agency. Does the DEA enforce Federal Drug Laws in all 50 states? No. Why not? Because rigorous application of what many recognize as unjust, uneconomical, and just plain stupid laws would be detrimental to their mission. ICE needs to apply the same standard. Can they really justify their current actions as being beneficial to the mission? Do they really believe that the amount of deterence generated by this policy is worth the sh*tstorm it caused? If not, then cease. If yes, then be forthright and make that case to the American public instead of getting into semantic disagreements when they get told "putting kids in cages is bad", and hiding LITERALLY from members of Congress. It's ridiculous; people are bringing their children to AMERICA, the nation that's supposed to be GREAT, and instead of getting help, or even indifference, they're getting their children taken away, and getting kicked in the ass for trying to find a better life. I know it's a cliche when talking about immigration, but Emma Lazarus is spinning in her grave right now. "The New Colossus" indeed. Nothing could make America look less "Great" than this petty, mean spirited persecution of hopeful families. I am embarrassed every time I see another article about it.

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome

....Or not

A_Chapman
A_Chapman

Editor

I responded to some of your points below, but I'm hoping you can clarify for me, why do you think this policy is not a form of terrorism?

A_Chapman
A_Chapman

Editor

Suggesting that the options are either continue with this policy or just have no border is a false dichotomy. No other country has a policy like this, and yet plenty of other countries manage to enforce their borders. In the short term the U.S. needs law makers and law enforcers who can find real ways to enforce our border security without targeting, punishing, and traumatizing minors. In the long term what's also needed is immigration reform that makes the process more functional for both sides.

Jon Saltzman
Jon Saltzman

Editor

Really tough issues here Alexis with not many great outcomes that make anyone feel good. The legal case that impacts this is the Flores Settlement added in the late 90's that limits the time anyone who is seeking asylum can be detained to 20 days. And what happens if their case doesn't get heard? They get to go live in America until their case comes up. Additionally, the whole issue of parents and kids being separated has come up before - in the Obama Administration -in 2014. It's related to the fact that most of this dangerous migration was carried out by individuals-usually males. However, only in recent times has it become a family thing. Obama and then Trump began enforcing the misdemeanors for the first time offenders and this created the need to separate the kids because they could not be housed in a jail.

Obviously, the separation of parents and kids is ridiculous (unless there are safety issues for the kids). But in the real parent/child situations, they must be given a safe environment TOGETHER - and given a proper time to have their hearing- or have hearings expedited -

But truly, unless you're advocating for open borders, which I don't think you are, there are no great outcomes. People must flee bad situations and The U.S. and other countries cannot take in all people who want to be there. The best we can do is create a more humane approach- but there will be many winners and losers regardless. Tough situation.

ThreePatriots
ThreePatriots

Editor

While your article pulls at the heart strings, it's often misleading, if not downright false. First, I do agree that the U.S. does have some part to play in some of the immigrants crossing the border illegally, but this does not mean we should just throw caution to the wind and toss out every immigration law we have on the books. We are in fact, a nation of laws and to come to our country, you must follow said laws. Don't like the laws? Change them... but you can't and shouldn't decline to enforce the laws of the country because you don't like them; that is called a dictatorship.

Now, the idea that the U.S. is a state sponsor of terrorism because they separate children from their parents who are being prosecuted is a farce. I'm not even going to get into that because it's so far fetched.

That being said... separating children from their parents is actually a law that's on the books in the U.S. It is not a new policy or new tactic, but one that has been there for decades. Don't like it? Call your Senator and Representative and tell them to change the law. That's how our Constitutional Republic works. No 1 individual gets to decide if they will enforce the laws passed in the halls of Congress.

All in all, here is a very good article that I believe seeks to be as unbiased as possible in this topic that gives the facts on law and immigration.

Philip Carino
Philip Carino

it is truly heartbreaking Alex and Trump's admin wouldn't care less. Aren't asylum seekers granted options to live in the US?



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