President Donald J. Trump is creating shameful “get tough” policies on illegal immigration that will be a blight on the American historical landscape for generations to come.


Zero Tolerance for Illegal Entry, No Mercy for Children


Part of Trump’s immigration enforcement efforts is known as “family separation policy”—a policy, according to PBS, that began percolating in March 2017 (just three months after Trump became president) and which permits the government to seize the children from parents who enter the country unlawfully and keep the children indefinitely confined in cages, pods, and enclosures.


This portion of Trump’s draconian immigration policy was formally rolled out to the public on April 6, 2018 by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he announced a “zero tolerance policy for criminal illegal entry” into the United States by the U.S. Justice Department.


This new separation of family policy flies in the face of what is known as the Flores Settlement Agreement—a 1997 court decree that imposed on immigration authorities three basic obligations regarding the detention, treatment and release of unaccompanied immigrant children. Those three agreements are:


  1. The government is required to release children from immigration detention without unnecessary delay to, in the following order of preference, parents, other adult relatives, or licensed programs willing to accept custody.
  2. If a suitable placement is not immediately available, the government is obligated to place children in the “least restrictive” setting appropriate to their age and any special needs.
  3. The government must implement standards to the care and treatment of children in immigration detention.


In July 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Flores agreement applies both to minors who are accompanied and unaccompanied by their parents when crossing the U.S. border.


Detention Centers Not New, Separation from Parents Is


President Barak Obama’s administration dealt with the increasing situation of unlawful border crossing by parents with children and unaccompanied children by placing women and children seeking asylum in this country into large “family detention centers.”


Two of these centers used by the Obama administration are owned and operated by private prison corporations: the Karnes Residential Center located in Karnes City, Texas (GEO Group); and the South Texas Family Residential Center located in Dilley, Texas (CoreCivic).


The family detention center policies, though unfair and reminiscent of the Japanese internment of the 1940s, at least keeps children with their parents.


President Trump and Attorney General Sessions believe the family detention policy is “soft on immigration crime.”


One month after announcing the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, Sessions announced a stronger version of the policy on May 8, 2018 that called for the prosecution of any migrant who crosses the border unlawfully, including asylum seekers with children.


“If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute,” Sessions said. “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.”


Texas Loves Private Prisons for Children


The State of Texas, through its Republican-controlled government, embraced the family separation policy because it means the federally subsidized but privately owned facilities will indefinitely incarcerate the innocent children, bringing additional employment opportunities to its local residents and allow the private prison corporations to purchase the food, supplies, clothing, and other materials needed to run these facilities from state and local businesses.


Texas’s love affair with the private prison industry was evidenced in 2016 when the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services tried to get the Dilley and Karnes County family detention centers licensed as “child care” facilities. This move was blocked by a Austin state court judge. Undeterred, the Texas Legislature tried but failed in its 2017 session to make these facilities , known as “baby jails,” licensed child care facilities to circumvent that 2016 court ruling.


The Trump and Texas government approaches are wrong and inhumane.


ABA Report Supports Release


We strongly support an August 2015 report by the American Bar Association that said family detention, especially of asylum seekers, should be a last resort and recommended the following reforms:


  1. Immediately release families held at the Berks, Dilley, and Karnes family detention facilities, cease expansion of the facilities, and do not renew their contracts for family detention;
  2. Permanently abandon deterrence-based detention policies;
  3. Adopt a presumption against detention and treat release into the community as the general rule, particularly in the case of families, children, and asylum seekers;
  4. When release into the community alone is insufficient, employ an objective risk assessment to identify the least restrictive means of achieving the goals of ensuing appearance at hearings and protection of community, using electronic monitoring and cash bonds only where demonstrably necessary in individual cases;
  5. Establish and adhere to clear standards of care that include unique provisions for families and children that do not follow a penal model; and
  6. Ensure meaningful access to legal information and representation for all families subjected to detention at every stage of their immigration proceedings.


According to a June 15, 2018 BBC report, no other country in the world has a policy of separating children from their parents. Even Australia, which has the world’s most restrictive policies towards asylum seekers, does not separate children from their parents seeking asylum.


The Trump administration tragically has separated more than 2,000 asylum seeking children from their parents since October 2017.


Instead of paying deference to brutal slaveholders of the past and praising the murderous authoritarian rule of modern day tyrants, President Donald J. Trump should respect the legal and human rights of accompanied and unaccompanied children who are brought across the nation’s border, especially those seeking asylum, by their desperate parents.


This country needs a president with the intellectual ability and moral fiber to understand basic human decency, fairness, and compassion towards all its citizens and non-citizens, not just to those in a “political base” that includes white nationalists, confederate flag-waving Klan supporters, and those who want to make “America Great Again” by returning to a racially segregated society like it had in the 1950s.