Almost 2,000 children were separated from their families at the US Southern Border over a six-week period between mid-April and the end of May during a crackdown on illegal entries, according to Department of Homeland Security figures obtained by the Associated Press. The figures show that 1,995 minors were separated from 1,940 adults from April 19 through May 31. The separations were not broken down by age and included separations for illegal entry, immigration violations or possible criminal conduct by the adult.
Over the past several days, a heated public debate has raged over Trump administration’s policy towards migrant children. The policy has been widely criticised by church groups, politicians and children’s advocates who say it is inhumane. Social media is abuzz with hashtags such as #WhereAreTheChildren and #MissingChildren.
What is President Trump’s immigration policy?
Illegal migrants and asylum seekers have been the core issue of Trump administration. Under a “zero tolerance” policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, all those apprehended entering the United States illegally, including those seeking asylum, would be criminally charged. The US protocol also prohibits detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with the crime, which generally leads to them being separated from their families.
On May 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.” Administration officials have defended the tactic as necessary to secure the border and suggested it would act as a deterrent to illegal immigration.
What happens to the children?
The children, separated from the families, are held in government facilities, released to adult sponsors or placed in temporary foster care. In the meantime, the officials from Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) try to identify the nearest relative in the US who can take the kid while the immigration hassles are being resolved.
What is President Trump’s view?
A top White House advisor distanced the Trump administration from the issue. “Nobody likes breaking up families and seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms,” said Kellyanne Conway, a counsellor to the president.
US President Donald Trump, in fact, has blamed the Democrats for the policy and said that if the Congress doesn’t like it, they should change the law. “Separating families at the Border is the fault of bad legislation passed by the Democrats. Border Security laws should be changed but the Dems can’t get their act together! Started the Wall,” he wrote on Twitter. ” “Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!” he added. On another occasion, he also said, “I hate the children being taken away.”
Conway also rejected the idea that Trump was using the kids as leverage to force Democrats to negotiate on immigration and his election promise to build a wall across the US-Mexican border. Putting the onus on Democrats, Conway said, “They’ll come together again and try to close these loopholes and get real immigration reform.”
Asked whether the president was willing to end the policy, she said: “The president is ready to get meaningful immigration reform across the board.”
In an effort to counter the criticism surrounding the Trump administration, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Sunday tweeted: “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”
In a separate tweet, she accused the news media and others of misreporting the issue and urged those seeking asylum to do so at ports of entry rather than crossing illegally.
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said that Donald Trump does not have to justify the policy. “We ran on a policy, very simply, stop mass illegal immigration and limit legal immigration, get our sovereignty back, and to help our workers, OK? And so he went to a zero-tolerance policy. Zero tolerance, it’s a crime to come across illegally, and children get separated. I mean, I hate to say it, that’s the law and he’s enforcing the law.”
Democrats criticise Trump
Democrats attacked the Trump administration, accusing the president of effectively turning children into political hostages to secure stricter immigration measures, such as funding for a US-Mexico border wall. “Stop lying to the American people. This is your policy,” Democratic US Representative Hakeem Jeffries said in New Jersey.
In South Texas on Sunday, several Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Jeff Merkley, visited a Border Patrol Processing Center in McAllen to call attention to the policy, while Representative Beto O’Rourke, who is running for the US Senate in Texas, led a protest march to a temporary detention facility for immigrant children set up near El Paso. “There is an open question about who we are as Americans,” O’Rourke told the demonstrators, adding they had to bear the burden of “what we now know to be happening.” “I want that burden to be so uncomfortable for so many of us that it forces us to act, it places the public pressure on those in positions of public trust and power to do the right thing for our country,” he added.
Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey also joined the protesters outside an immigration detention facility on Sunday for a Father’s Day demonstration against the policy. “This must not be who we are as a nation,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler, one of seven members of Congress from New York and New Jersey who met with five detainees inside the facility, including three who said they had young relatives removed from their care after seeking asylum at the border.
The Democrats also plan to introduce legislation in the Senate this week aimed at stopping separations, mirroring a similar Senate bill sponsored by Democrat Dianne Feinstein. But neither bill has much hope of securing enough support in the Republican-controlled Congress, let alone surviving Trump’s veto pen.
Sarah Sanders, Jeff Sessions invokes Bible to defend policy
Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, invoked the Bible to defend the Trump administration’s policy. Speaking at the White House briefing earlier this week Sanders also blamed the Democrats for the situation.
Defending the policy, attorney general Jeff Sessions had cited a passage in the Bible. “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of the order,” said Sessions. He added: “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”
When media questioned Sanders to point out where in the Bible the policy found its moral justification, she said, “I am not aware of the attorney general’s comments or what he would be referencing … I can say it is very biblical to enforce the law, that is repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.”
The comments from Sanders and Sessions earned the ire of many on social media. Meanwhile, a CBS report suggested that Sarah Sanders and principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah might quit the administration. Sanders, who has become a confidante of President Trump since the departure of former communications director Hope Hicks, has told friends that she plans to leave the administration at the end of the year, the report added.
President Donald Trump, however, rejected the report adding that Sanders is doing “a fantastic job” and has no immediate plans to leave. “Sarah loves this job,” Trump said. “At some point, I’m sure she’ll leave. Everybody leaves. And we’ll get somebody else. Sarah’s done a fantastic job. No, I don’t think she’s leaving.” Sanders, on Twitter, wrote that she is “honoured to work for @POTUS.”
Meanwhile, the First lady Melania Trump said she “hates” to see families separated at the border and hoped “both sides of the aisle” can reform the nation’s immigration laws. A spokeswoman for the wife of President Donald Trump issued a statement on the issue after several days of images of crying children appearing on television and online. “Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” said Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Trump. “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”
(With inputs from agencies)