You have to give the Trump administration credit for one thing — persistence in violating basic standards of human decency in its approach to immigration.
It was bad enough that the administration had already separated more than 700 children from their parents at the border since October. Many if not most of those families were seeking asylum in the United States.
Then, in recent weeks, the administration adopted a new, even harsher tactic. It said it would now begin charging "100 percent" of people crossing the southern border illegally with criminal violations — and if they came in with children, those children would be taken from them and handed over to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services. That so-called "zero tolerance" policy seems certain to dramatically increase the number of children being removed from their families.
"If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law," Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions said.
Sessions and Thomas Homan, deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have tried to pass the new policy off as an effort to combat "human trafficking" rather than as a cruel and cynical deterrent to would-be immigrants and asylum-seekers.
But that explanation doesn't hold up; indeed, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly was more honest when he told NPR two weeks ago that family separation "would be a tough deterrent."
The president, of course, has tried once again to confuse the issue by tweeting out misinformation. In this case, he urged his followers to "put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents once they cross the Border into the U.S." But there is no such law. It is true that, as a matter of policy, children are being separated from their undocumented parents. But this is entirely the result of the Trump administration's new "zero-tolerance" policy in charging all border crossers with a crime. It is not a law, and is certainly not something done by the Democrats.
Human rights advocates say that the policy of separating families is inhumane and may even constitute torture of the separated children.
The hard-line move is part and parcel of the administration's obsessive fixation on illegal immigration, and its desire to admit even fewer legal immigrants and refugees than under previous administrations. In the first year of Trump's administration, fewer family-based immigration visas were issued than at any other time in the previous decade, according to Reuters. Trump also has severely reduced the number of refugees to be resettled here, from 110,000 in Obama's final year to 45,000 this year.
Throttling back legal immigration is not in the nation's long-term interests, though the system has been in dire need of comprehensive reform for years — something Congress has failed to do. Trump pays lip service to reforms, but his real aim is to build a wall along the Mexican border and deport many of the people living in the U.S. illegally, no matter how long they have been here, no matter how many American citizen children they have nor any other extenuating circumstances.
As a matter of policy, the government should not be turning a deaf ear to those who arrive at the border in fear of their lives who are asking for protection. Not all have a credible argument to make, but the government has a system in place for handling such requests, even though the Trump administration quietly tightened up the criteria that screening officers are to use to determine whether an asylum-seeker has displayed a "credible fear." In any case, the government should not be charging people with a crime because they asked for help.
We disagree with most of the president's views on immigration and immigration enforcement, which admittedly are divisive issues that have been nettlesome to solve. But separating children — including babies and toddlers — from their parents when those parents have not been accused of neglect or endangerment should be recognized as a manifestly inhumane practice. Even by an administration as heartless as this one.