Separating families: US migration policy hits a new moral low


As part of a tougher approach to immigration, the US administration is now asking federal prosecutors to pursue all undocumented immigrants illegally crossing the border into the US. In early May 2018, Jeff Sessions, the US Attorney General, announced this new « zero tolerance » policy, which also entails separating families. Adults will have their kids taken from them while they await trial. The children are sent in another detention center or put with temporary foster families, in principle until a family member in the US can take him/her in.

The separation of families caught trying to cross into the US had actually been enforced for months. According to a (anonymous) US government official, close to 1,800 migrant and refugee families were separated at the US-Mexico border between October 2016 and February 2018. In March 2017, the Guardian had already reported that the government was considering this tougher approach as a way to discourage mothers from migrating to the US with their children.

Discouraging migrants and refugees from entering the U.S. by all means necessary

Since the family separation is not required by law, you may wonder why the US government is enforcing this. Clearly, it wants to punish migrants and refugees for illegally entering the United States. But the real aim of this policy goes as step further, it is deter future immigration candidates to attempt entering the US.

This was made clear by Jeff Sessions when he said in early May that « If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law (…) If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border. »

While, according to the LA Times, some administration officials did admit that the aim of the policy was indeed to discourage people from illegally entering the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had another explanation. When asked why a 7 year-old girl was separated from her mother – a Congolese woman seeking asylum in the U.S. at the end of 2017- and kept in a facility 2’000 miles away for over 4 months, the DHS spokesperson responded that separation is usually done when there is a suspicion that the child is victim of human-trafficking and therefore a need for DNA testing.

Ok, so separation in that case was done to protect the child? And mothers are automatically considered as child smugglers? Turns out, no testing was done for 4 months and when it was finally done, guess what? The woman who claimed to be her mother was indeed her mother. And the child? She was reported to be deeply traumatized.

When, in early June, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon tried to visit one of the facilities in Texas, where these families were being held and separated, he was (unsurprisingly) refused entry and told by the police to leave the premises. However, according to the Senator, he was then able to visit another centre, where he reported seeing men. women and children in crowded cages. He said: « It reminds me a little bit of a dog kennel, constructed of cyclone fencing. »

Getting rid of the Flores settlement

As you would expect, this inhumane policy has sparked outrage not only among Democrats, of more generally among any decent human being. The United Nations human rights office called on the US government to put an immediate end to the policy, underlining that there is « nothing normal about detaining children. »

Some Republicans also expressed their disagreement. Ok, not that many in fact. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, who seem to have grown a (small) spine since announcing last April he would not seek re-election next November, said he didn’t want to see families being separated. He did not go as far as blaming Trump, but said instead that the fault was with a court ruling, referring to the 1997 Flores settlement, a deal that makes it illegal to lock up children in detention centres.

Since the government cannot put children in jail while their mothers await trial, as the latter are being prosecuted from illegally entering the country, children are taken away and transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement where they are given to a sponsor or held in a non-secured facility.

In June, the Republicans announced they were preparing a bill, they claimed would prevent separation of families. In reality, the bill under way would not make family separation illegal, instead it would get rid of the legal protection afforded to children by the Flores settlement and allow the government to jail the whole family, including the children. Their detention would last until their case is resolved, which could be months, or years.

Asked by the media about the policy of separating children, Sarah Sanders, responded… well, you better discover that by yourself. Just watch the video below.

OK, right. So ripping kids from their parents is biblical.

So what do conservative religious groups, those who helped elect President Trump, have to say about this?

Well, actually they were not so happy. The long-time Trump supporter, Rev. Franklin Graham, even had some harsh words about the policy, saying « I think it’s disgraceful, it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit. »

You know you’ve gone too far when even conservative religious groups start criticizing you.