President Donald Trump’s executive order ending the separation of children from their parents is one baby step in the right direction dealing with the immigration crisis that his administration exacerbated.
The president is correct in saying that this crisis began years before he took office, but his administration’s zero-tolerance policy toward undocumented immigrants seeking to cross the border has created a humanitarian nightmare. An estimated 2,000 undocumented children were separated from their families in the few months between implementation of the zero-tolerance policy and the signing of the executive order June 20. Children have been moved to foster care in cities as far away from the border as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. How will these kids be reunited with their parents, some of whom have been deported?
In his executive order, President Trump stated that it is the policy of his administration “to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources. It is unfortunate that Congress’s failure to act and court orders have put the Administration in the position of separating alien families to effectively enforce the law.”
There’s plenty of blame to go around but it is a waste of time to dwell on that. The physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of children, women and men must be among our nation’s priorities. Zero tolerance prolongs the crisis and human misery because a clogged court system can’t hear immigration cases in a timely manner.
Zero tolerance also plays havoc with the executive order because of the 1997 Flores settlement, which requires immigration officials to place a detained minor in the least restrictive setting. The Trump Administration hopes to obtain a modification so that families can be detained together throughout immigration court proceedings. Detention, however, is not conducive to human flourishing.
“Family detention is counter to Catholic teaching, which weighs the morality of a society by how it treats the most vulnerable,” wrote Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller in December 2014 in “Demanding Dignity: The call to End Family Detention.” He was writing on behalf of the Migration and Refugee Conference/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
“These families are no threat to our communities — they themselves are fleeing violence and abuse,” Bishop Garcia-Siller wrote. That’s still the reason undocumented immigrants are fleeing Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico today. The USCCB statement recommended releasing immigrants to family or sponsors or to a community-based case management program. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) also supports intensive case management as an alternative to detention, as well as electronic monitoring and the provision of legal representation.
Meanwhile, Congress struggles to pass a bill that would make citizenship a possibility for “Dreamer” immigrants brought to this country as children by their parents. We need to support Congress in that effort, but first we must address the family crisis:
• Contact President Trump to ask for transparency in accounting for the 2,000 separated children and reuniting them with their families (whitehouse.gov/contact; (202) 456-1111; The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 20500)
• Contact Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst and tell them that you support “Keep Families Together and Enforce the Law Act” (grassley.senate.gov (202) 224-3744; ernst.senate.gov (202) 224-3254).
The proposed legislation, which Grassley helped draft, “reflects the American people’s humanity and respects the rule of law by permanently ensuring that families can stay together in family residential centers while their cases are pending,” he said. The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to keep immigrant families together at residential centers pending the outcome of their immigration proceedings. The bill also sets mandatory standards of care for family residential centers and authorizes more than 200 new immigration judges. It requires the DHS Secretary and Attorney General to expedite the court proceedings of children and families.
• Participate in the Mothers United/Madres Unidas “Families Belong Together Rally” on June 30 at 11 a.m. in Davenport’s Vander Veer Park, 215 W. Central Park Ave. Rallies being held nationwide that day.
The Trump Administration took a baby step toward righting a wrong it exacerbated in the civil war over immigration. As a nation, let’s set the example for rational conversation on this issue without dehumanizing people with legitimate reasons for seeking asylum.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor