Editorial: Sending migrant kids to Trump’s tent city is atrocious. So is the Congressional cowardice that got us here

View of a temporary detention centre for illegal immigrant children and teenagers in Texas near the Mexico-US border on June 18.
View of a temporary detention centre for illegal immigrant children and teenagers in Texas near the Mexico-US border on June 18.
(Herika Martinez / AFP/Getty Images)

Stoking fears of changing demographics and hinting at the decline of white America, the Trump administration has adopted a severe, xenophobic immigration policy. After trying to bar Muslims from the country, after insulting Mexicans, after cutting back the number of refugees admitted, after separating children from their parents, the latest outrage is that the government has moved nearly 2,000 of the estimated 13,000 “unaccompanied minors” it has in custody to a barren tent city in the remote border town of Turnillo, about 30 miles southeast of El Paso.

According to the New York Times, the children were awakened, put onto buses with snacks and backpacks and shipped off to the internment camp in the dead of night, supposedly because they would be less likely to try to escape in the dark. At their new “emergency shelter,” they will be without access to schooling or to lawyers.

It cannot possibly be morally permissible to cram 2,000 children into a tent city in West Texas while they await hearings on whether they should be allowed to stay in the country. Or to target for arrest family and friends who are willing to take in some of the children. Or, for that matter, to arrest families seeking asylum, jailing the parents on misdemeanor illegal border-crossing charges and removing their children from them.


Members of Congress from both parties need to stop looking sideways at potential primary challengers in crafting immigration positions.

Yet this is where we are as a country. Sure, many people have protested the administration’s draconian steps, and immigration advocates have fought some of the moves in court. But Trump just bulls ahead with little meaningful pushback from Congress, which has for far too long shirked its responsibility to fix the unworkable immigration system. And the prognosis for a break in the current stasis is bad so long as an anti-immigration hard-liner runs the White House, and Congress remains in the control of right-wing Republicans who persistently work against the nation’s best interests.

The U.S. should have an immigration system that balances its economic needs with its right to control its border and with reasonable ideas of fairness, justice and generosity. We should reopen our arms to refugees who deserve resettlement, after proper vetting, instead of slamming the border gates shut. We need to continue to focus, in part, on reunifying families. We should offer a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants leading productive, lawful lives, beginning with the so-called Dreamers, people who live here illegally after being brought here as children — decisions they had little to do with. It’s unfair and self-defeating for the government to deport them — especially after they have been raised as Americans and educated by American taxpayers — to nations where they are strangers. The U.S. needs enforcement at the border to ensure an orderly immigration process in which rational decisions are made about who may come in and out — but Americans also need to acknowledge that our economic strength as a nation is based on immigration.

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About one-quarter of our foreign-born population of nearly 44 million lives in the U.S. without permission, with about 8 million of the undocumented working under the radar in landscaping, construction, retail and other industries. Nearly three-quarters have been here for more than a decade and have become part of our communities, often with American spouses and American-born dependents. One study estimated that deportations in families with both undocumented members and legal residents would cut their median household incomes nearly in half, from $41,300 to $22,000, impoverishing millions of people and reducing the gross domestic product by 1.4%. What is the nation’s interest in disrupting those lives and separating more immigrant families?

So how does the nation get out of this mess? It’s going to take skill, compromise and maturity, traits that are in woefully short supply in Washington these days. A Democratic sweep of Congress won’t necessarily get us there, especially with Trump still in the White House. But members of Congress from both parties need to stop looking sideways at potential primary challengers in crafting immigration positions and make the brave political stands it will take to fix this. And voters need to keep in mind that controversial issues will not get resolved until we decide to resolve them.

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