President Trump’s latest executive order purports to end the separation of migrant families. But by aiming to detain children indefinitely with their parents, it is still a black mark on the United States’ human-rights record.
President Donald Trump finally signed an executive order Wednesday designed to stem future separations of migrant families at the U.S. border — something he had maintained he could not do.
In theory, this reversal should be welcome news. But by promising to detain children indefinitely alongside their parents at family detention centers, his action still will be a black mark on the United States’ human-rights record. The federal government has been restricted from keeping children in immigration detention for more than 20 days, even if the children are with their parents.
Rather than resolving key issues with our country’s broken immigration system, Trump’s executive order only shows how far our country still has to go when it comes to creating a system that actually works.
Undoubtedly, Trump’s administration has taken enforcement of U.S. immigration laws to an astoundingly cruel level in the past two months. By enacting a new, zero-tolerance policy of criminally prosecuting everyone caught unlawfully crossing the border, migrant parents have been separated from their children at unprecedented rates, even when seeking asylum.
The ensuing chaos has produced heart-wrenching photos of caged children and audio of kids crying for their parents, while prompting the United Nations to condemn the practice as a violation of international law.
Yet keeping these children in long-term detention alongside their parents, as Trump is poised to do, also would violate U.N. human-rights guidelines. It would simultaneously go against a 1997 settlement agreement that limits the detention of immigrant children, as well as a court ruling that led President Barack Obama’s administration to stop the long-term detention of families in most cases. After that court decision and a public outcry, Obama-era officials returned to a practice of releasing most families to await the outcome of their immigration cases together.
Trump is seeking a court’s permission to modify the 1997 Flores settlement, so the government can detain children for longer periods.
Far from considering this issue resolved, members of Congress must channel the worldwide outrage over the Trump administration splitting up families to pass comprehensive immigration reform. That means approving a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants who are already living here without legal permission, as well as permanent protections for Dreamers whose parents brought them to the country illegally when they were children.
Instead of spending billions on an ineffective border wall or building more costly family detention centers, Congress should direct money toward quicker processing of asylum-seekers, as well as resolving immigration-court backlogs that make legal entry difficult and inefficient.
Ideally, Trump also should return to his predecessors’ policy of exercising discretion about when to criminally charge people for the misdemeanor offense of illegal entry, particularly for migrants making asylum claims.
Like the atrocity of caging children, jailing families en masse is not a policy our country should seek to embrace or expand.
Information in this article, originally published June 20, 2018, was corrected June 21, 2018. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that there have been photos of immigrant children in cages and crying. There have been photos of caged children and audio of kids crying for their parents.